I wasn’t able to confront my pain until I admitted there was nothing wrong with me.
I’ve lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember. And most of it has been a raging tide against Life being unfair. The world doesn’t get me. Soandso doesn’t like me. I’m misunderstood. I’m unappreciated. And so on. But these thoughts are a cover-up for the feeling that something was wrong with me in my core. I have this image in mind of bent steel — strong but damaged from some inner failing that has handicapped me getting what I wanted out of life.
Where do you find your self-worth? I tend to put my esteem in the hands of those who don’t like me and sideline the affections of those who do. Why do I do such an insane, self-depleting behavior? Is it ‘Popular Kid’ syndrome? I’ve been a loser, desperate to fit in, ever since third grade. It’s the same sad story of being bullied for being different. I was teased for being a freak and more specifically called a faggot by my peers. I remember one day asking Ms. Campagna, my 3rd grade teacher, what a “faggot” was, in the middle of class. She became enraged and sent me to detention for saying the word out-loud. I remember not only feeling at a loss for why I was being bullied but also punished for trying to understand what the hell was going on.
My mom always thought that bullying imprinted on me in some way. When I came out at age 17, she theorized that it was all because I’d been tormented and called a faggot in third grade. Her son couldn’t truly be gay — it was some sort of trauma or damage from my childhood. There was something wrong with me that could be fixed through conversion therapy. I felt horrified — there was no one in the world I was closer to than my mother. I’d been her perfect precocious child and she my Mary Poppins my entire life, but after I shared with her my deepest, truest sense of self — my sexuality — she told me I mistaken. I was damaged goods.
Logically, I knew she was wrong. I don’t remember the exact arguments I had with my mom to duke it out — I have blocked those memories out. All I can gather is a general feeling of screaming and threatening and going full “lawyer-mode” on her to try to out-reason her skewed Catholic justifications. It befuddled me — all my peers and the rest of my family supported me. And my mother was a doctor, an intellectual who had been in the class of first woman to graduate at Notre Dame. How could she get it so wrong? Was I to trust the person I loved most — who told me I needed to change the core of my being? Or should I believe the world at large, who told me I was fine just the way God made me? My heart and my mind battled and left me miserable with a deep ache that I am still addressing in therapy today.
I think this feeling that something is intrinsically wrong with me is the building block for most of my suffering. It is the fuel that goads my anxiety when I don’t understand why the ‘Cool Kids’ don’t include me. Or why I’ve usually felt ‘misunderstood’ by most of the bosses I’ve worked for. Or why I’ve eventually pushed away long-term relationships when my partner begins to see some of my less favorable sides.
And…I’m thankful because I am reaching the point where I just don’t care anymore. I’m coming closer to owning the maxim: Whether you like me or not is none of my business. I can let others judge me and let it roll off my back. After all, I am sure that my need for approval led to some needy and whiny behavior that only pushed people away. I know it’s hard to like someone who projects wanting to be liked. I’m also not ashamed of my wants and needs — they’re just a part of who I am as a conundrum of a human being. It doesn’t mean there’s something broken with me. In fact, it probably makes me just a regular ole’ desperate human being.
Letting go of this anxiety is helping me to face the deeper loss and pain underneath— such as the grief of losing my relationship with my mom and being bullied from a young age. That pain is there, and it’s patient. I’m beginning to touch it without letting it consume my sense of self. I’m willing to be thankful for it — because it made me a more fully-fleshed person. It gave me life experience and taught me some wisdom. Suffering isn’t all bad, and it’s not an indicator of a failing inside you that requires outside circumstances to repair. You are whole just the way you are, with your strengths and your weaknesses.
There’s nothing wrong with you.