There are some blogs that I write that come like a swift thought. Others take months to fester inside me until I can find the words to give the subject justice. This one is one of those. It’s about people-pleasing. It’s about painful situations and more than anything, it’s about staying true and hopeful in an ever-crazy life.
So sit back, grab a cup of tea and a biscuit and I will tell you my story and hopefully give you some optimism for yours.
Where to start?
I was a nervous introverted kid that didn’t really fit in. I looked for ways to fit in. I tried to talk to people and befriend classmates that I hadn’t spoken to and god forbid a girl would look at me for more than 2 seconds, I would fall head over heels. In fact, I did. I became desperately besotted by a girl, as everyone does in school. It is a mortifying memory to look back on. My goodness, I had no game, no sense of self-awareness and fuck all confidence. Luckily, she was very sweet and was one of the kinder souls around me at that time – friends were in short supply as a post-trauma, light-skinned biracial chubby kid in a white, English maritime town. I was bullied mercilessly and constantly and so the few people I did have in my life were like angels on a pedestal.
Anyway, I was so infatuated by this one girl and so trapped in this idea that people had to like me, that I became different incarnations of myself. At this point – about 15 years old – I was also acting at every chance I got so pretending to be someone else wasn’t difficult. 90% of the personalities and actions I portrayed at the time weren’t me. I was putting on such a mask and, to be honest, totally failing at it. It was easy to see through and I was just embarrassing myself. After enough dilly-dallying and pretending, I eventually got round to asking her out and got that soul-destroying rejection (albeit a very gently delivered one). We stayed friends but it’s always a funny story for me to look back on because it really was just a huge example of me pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
Naturally, it didn’t stop there. I grew older and while the bullying began to gradually filter out with the hands of time and maturity, my self-esteem changed very little. I was battered by panic attacks regularly in college and racked with paranoia. I ran into more – admittedly less humiliating – cases of the ‘crush’ and was just as poor at it all (one girl even cried when I asked her out – yikes). So where was I going so desperately wrong? How did I still find it so hard to make friends that stayed?
What was the problem?
Well, there is a quote by Nietzsche that goes “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Great quote. There’s a lot of truth in it. But at 16-17 years old, I didn’t believe it, and I didn’t know who the fuck Nietzsche was. In fact, I probably would have thought he was some sort of infection, rather than a lauded philosopher and poet.
If, at the time, I were to reword that quote I expect it would be a little something like “You have your way: the correct way. I have my way: the incorrect way, please teach me how not to be a massive loser.” Totally self-deprecating, totally pessimistic – total bullshit. I just could not fathom that individuality was a birth-right. As someone whose femininity was mistaken for homosexuality, whose opinion on his own race and his own beliefs were constantly belittled, individuality didn’t seem to be a choice. And that was precisely the problem. This wasn’t about just having crushes on girls and feeling like no-one found me attractive, this wasn’t about me struggling to find friends, this was a problem with my own acceptance of myself. This was a problem with my own appreciation for the friends I did have and the loyalty they gave me.
So when one of my closest friends text me to say my mental health was a downer, and that all my friends hated me, I crashed. But not the sort that lasts a second and then nothing happens. The sort that lasts months and months, but leads to something incredible.
The start of something
The same year (2013) I started University at The University of Essex. I still felt awful, but I was sharing a house with 11 other people so I had to get used the whole socialising thing eventually. I stayed inside my bedroom throughout most of my 1st year, but I did join the theatre society, and I did – ever so timidly – introduce myself to the people on my course. I was the quiet one; the unassuming one. I was desperately sad. Again, I tried to put on faces and I tried to pretend I was a different person. It just made me sadder. I was there for 4 years in total. It was both the longest 4 years of my life and the shortest. At some point during that messy time, I found the right people and I found the spark. That single spark that starts something in you and reminds you that you have your own individual style. It was a gradual shift, but it was life-changing. It wasn’t University, it wasn’t the retail job I went into afterwards, but rather the culmination of so many factors.
What’s the point you’re making here, Liam?
Tonight, laying in bed, I caught myself reflecting on a more recent situation. I was missing someone, and thinking about the ways a person impacts our lives both when they are in it and then when they leave. At which point I realised that, while I still feel pain and I still struggle to see the light, I have built myself an individuality, by allowing myself to just be true. Or at least to find out what that looks like. I have found happiness and more acceptance through understanding the perfection of our natural selves. For all the times I believed that fitting in was the way to go, and for all the times I humiliated myself falling for women, I was just playing another role. How could I have expected to feel normal or to feel like I belonged in this world, if I did not even know what ‘being me’ looked like? Or felt like? That person, for your information, is a straight-but-feminine, biracial man who makes stupid jokes, has a love for wine, has incredible friends and wants nothing more than to prove my old self wrong. How? By simply being me.
Once again, I share that quote from Nietzsche:
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
You are your own person. Love yourself, first. Understand yourself, first. Life will not become easier, but it will make a lot more sense.