In recent years, I’ve struggled with my health, my mental well-being and this question of happiness. In this process, which is ongoing, I’ve realized that there were things missing in my life (understatement of my generation, right?). Surprisingly, they weren’t things to acquire, but rather, they were experiences to live and feel. I was missing out on so much because of barriers I’d put up within mySelf. We all have barriers to the self, and we all start with recognizing them.
I realized that one of my sources of restraint was pride. Not in the sense we misunderstand as vain, self-involved and reserved. I mean I was/am proud in the sense that I was protecting my dignity as I saw it and my heart as I remembered pain. You see, folks who aim to better themselves, improve their performance and compete tend to have issues around shame, rejection and self-worth. I know that I learned shame. I learned embarrassment, through experiences such as bullying or singling-out in class. I learned that being “right”, bubbly, helpful and talented was valued. Being valued felt good. I can’t speak for others, but whenever I fell short of any of these, I felt less than. I disappointed and that felt bad. I felt like I lost a bit of shine to my penny. I started to compete with others not to prove myself better than anyone else, but to make myself lovable, though I didn’t know it at the time. When I got older, into adulthood, I loved being the best at something and couldn’t stand not being the best at something I dedicated so much time to. How could I not be the best dancer if I worked so hard? Those questions would send me into tailspins. I would question my entire life’s decisions and whether I even knew who I was. Was I worth anyone’s time?
I was painted as the model student, the talented dancer and artist, the reasonable child, the best friend, the exemplary intern, the up-and-coming reporter, the communications professional, the competitive dancer and team member, the reliable daughter, the girlfriend you bring home to mom. Those are just some of the roles I’ve had to play, as cast by others.
My fears of feeling shame, embarrassment and not being good enough grew over time. No one is born feeling ill-equipped to live. Everyone born wants to be here. So why do we feel so unloved, inadequate and misunderstood from such a young age?Through experiences. We can choose to take the lessons or identify with the pain. We can’t live with both. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I danced in a production of Newsies. My coach insisted we lip-sync the chorus introduction and frustrated as she was, she threatened that if she saw one of us mumbling, she would “make us sing the chorus to all the other classes”, which included older kids and teenagers. You’ve probably guessed that I was singled out and was forced to sing, out loud, with no musical accompaniment to about three classes. This was NOT the kind of attention I ever wanted or asked for. I remember my palms sweating and the blood draining from my hands, which were shaking. I remember having a hard time pushing sound out of my mouth. My throat was dry. I made it through the entire chorus while staring at the floor and feeling my face flush. My legs felt like lead. I remember few moments as uncomfortable as that one. I could tell others were also uncomfortable about the manner in which I’d been thrust into their class and forced to perform, like a circus monkey.
Finding My Voice
To this day, I struggle with singing. I have a visceral reaction; like a caged animal. I was a child who loved music and who belted out tunes without a care in the world. I was never even aware that others may not like hearing me! But since this experience, I have third chakra
problems. I have a crackly, raspy voice which breaks sometimes mid-speech, or when I sing certain notes. I lose my voice the second I think someone can hear me sing. I frequently have to clear my throat and often have “a frog”. I discovered I have hypothyroidism, which is an under-active thyroid. Louise Hay has very interesting suggestions relating to root causes of physical disease and illness. According to her, thyroid dysfunction has to do with self-expression and being heard or “speaking your truth”. I think it’s pretty clear that my symptoms stem from a traumatic experience. The irony of it all, is that the song was meant to be empowering
“Open the gates and seize the day
Don’t be afraid and don’t delay
Nothing can break us
No one can make us
Give our rights away
Arise and seize the day”
For years, I stopped myself from singing. I didn’t sing in public, at the karaoke, on road trips, while walking with an iPod, at parties or around a camp fire. All this time, somewhere deep down, I believed that my singing would be judged, that I would be shamed and ostracized.
I stopped myself from learning an instrument and I quit guitar because my family was full of talented musicians. I stopped myself from sewing because my mom could always do it better. I stopped drawing because it was not practical for school or anything else. Besides, I wasn’t “good” at it, like my father or my cousin was. I “grew out” of playing games, an activity I enjoyed so much. I hesitated for years to learn photography because I thought I wouldn’t understand the technique. I was always “mathematically challenged”. I shelved writing and storytelling for the last few years, when I walked away from reporting. I stopped myself from pursuing riskier career options, which were worth the risk for the sheer experience.
I buried mySelf, as I filled my calendar with activities, my head with worry, my credit card with unattainable standards and my heart with sorrow. I realized something had to change…