Keep Your Eyes Up
I’m usually content to watch life. I suppose that comes with being a writer. I like to watch people go about their days; ordering overpriced coffee or chatting with a homeless person. I like to give them stories and wonder about the world they’ve made for themselves. Thing is, I’ve learned to enjoy being an outsider. I like to settle myself in the periphery of the world’s view and watch the planet turn. It’s only recently that I realized I’ve actually been isolating myself.
Tim Kreider wrote an essay for the New York Times called ‘I know what you think of me’. I highly suggest people read it if only for the last line; “… if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.” I went looking for this article after seeing a reference on social media. Now, Kreider’s situation isn’t incredibly similar to mine, but this line, discovered on a Tumblr post when I was scrolling at 2 a.m., made me uncomfortable. I felt put on the spot. It called out the part of me that had been declining dates or backing out of auditions. The part of me that gets so excited for opportunities, but ultimately backs out. It called out the piece of me that had, unknowingly, been hiding in the back of the room, trying desperately to go unnoticed. It’s the reason I stopped trying to show people my writing. For so long, I had been afraid of being seen and being known.
Realizing this fear made me examine myself more closely. Looking back, I know that I slowly began closing myself off around others. I’ve learned that the root cause is that I’m afraid of being judged. I’m afraid of someone trying to scale the emotional barrier that I unknowingly built. I’m afraid of showing someone the things I take pride in or create because that leads to expectations or invites scrutiny. I’m afraid of someone seeing me, past all the masks and misdirection that I present to the world, down to the mistakes and insecurities. I’m afraid of them seeing that beneath the cover— I’m shaking apart with the fear of being known. Inadequacy is a key point in my fear of being known. Even compliments make me uncomfortable. I never feel like I’ve truly earned them. As such I started avoiding things I know I’m good at. I became afraid that if I showed myself to the world, I’d be rejected even for not measuring up.
I love to sing, but going through an audition makes my body shake to the point you can hear it in my voice. I love to write, but I won’t show anyone my work unless I have to. I have walls three feet thick and a mile high blocking out the world around me, which is why I have only a few close friends and tend to ignore everyone else; staring at the ground instead of looking up and ahead. I swing between thinking I’m okay, to being disgusted with the person I see in the mirror; someone who’s terrified. I’ve spent hours undoing the damage this fear has caused me. Staring into my eyes and telling myself over and over that I’m fine. That I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Still, there’s that fear. Fear that says with certainty, that I’m not good enough, attractive enough, creative enough, or smart enough. So why would I want to show that person to the world? It feels like I’m sinking into swamp water that’s filling up my lungs. Some days I don’t have the strength to build up what fear tears down. Sometimes, I only breathe freely when I can’t see myself. I know I’m not alone when I say that I often feel like an impostor in my own body. Fear has lead to years of loneliness that can bring me to tears in a heartbeat. Beyond being afraid, I’ve been ashamed that I let myself fall this far. I let fear shape so much of my identity. I spent so much time judging myself and letting myself sink rather than desperately trying to claw my way out of the pit. I don’t want to waste any more time.
There is an upside to knowing what frightens you; you know what you need to confront. If I know my own shortcomings, I can do something about them, right? But that’s hard. It’s so hard to put in the work to make yourself better. It’s painful to fight the voices in your head telling you to just let it be. That’s because there’s safety there. Sure, you know you’re not at your best. “But, really, who is,” you’ll tell yourself. You don’t like feeling like this. “At least I know what to expect.” You need to tell someone about the struggles you face. “But I don’t want to be a bother.” People love you enough to listen. “But they won’t like me anymore.” Your brain will give you a million and one reasons to step back and suffer in silence. Change. Is. Terrifying. Especially when you’ve lived with fear for so long.
I’m one of those people who have to overcome things by doing them. I can’t work up to it in increments. So to get past this fear, I began by signing myself up for things I was holding back from. I was so proud of myself for auditioning for a play last weekend. My voice trembled the whole time and I still try and list all the ways I could have done better. But it’s a start. It’s a place to begin.
It’s okay to take it one day at a time. It’s fine if you want to seek help anonymously, so long as you put the advice into practice. Whatever weird quirk or saying you need to practice to get yourself through the day, do it. Don’t be ashamed of how you talk yourself up or how long it takes to “get better”. You’re rebuilding yourself from the ground up. That’s amazing. It’s not a short sprint to feeling better. It’s a long, long battle, and it’s filled with all kinds of days. My bad days often creep up when I’m not looking. Those are the days when I don’t feel like putting in the effort to do more than existing, but I have to. So I designed ways to feel okay with that. I don’t allow myself to call them”bad”, they’re just “quiet”. I don’t chatter, but I listen to my family as they do. I don’t sing, but I keep the music playing. I don’t feel like creating, so I see what others have done. It’s a careful balance, but it helps.
It’s going to be a long road, but it’s not a race. I’m sure I’ll struggle, but I have to hold myself accountable. I want to be brave again. Hopefully, someday, I’ll be able to look up at the world without fear; submit myself to “the mortifying ordeal of being known”. One day, I want to be able to say, “Watch me, World, I’ve got something amazing to show you.”