Who am I?
I am an artist, a writer, a storyteller – a communicator of my own stories and a believer in the power of connection and inspiration through sharing and vulnerability.
I am a listener, an observer, a student of the world; I believe in the importance of holding and witnessing stories that are not my own.
Because I know what it’s like to be shut down. I know what it’s like to hold my story inside of me because no one seems to want to listen. I also know the pain I can cause others when I am not willing to listen to them.
Life is all about both seeing and being seen; hearing and being heard; giving and receiving.
When the balance is thrown, we all suffer.
I was too sensitive: I cried too much. Or, at least, that’s what they said about me behind my back. I didn’t understand what that meant or why it mattered. Was crying too much a bad thing?
Okay, so I guess I cried too much. I just had to learn how to stop crying so much and then they would stop talking about me.
But whether I cried or not didn’t really matter.
When I wasn’t crying, I was too selfish. I was too annoying. I was too naïve. I was too immature. I was just too much, they said.
So I didn’t stop crying.
And they didn’t stop talking about me.
When I looked into my future, I almost always saw the same thing: a handsome ‘Prince Charming’ falling in love with me at first sight. He fell so fast in love with me that he would immediately whisk me away so we could get married in a special and spectacular ceremony before starting our own beautiful family and growing old together. Life was perfect and I was happy.
I saw him every day in my daydreams. He greeted me with the love and attention and acceptance that I wasn’t receiving from the social world.
He gave me hope: I just had to wait for the day that he would rescue me. As long as I had that hope, I could keep going.
I always felt like I was on the outside – like everyone else had been given the rule book on how to be a socially functioning person except me. Everything I did seemed to annoy someone or warrant more gossip or make me feel so nervous that I just kept my head down and did my homework instead.
I was good at school. But school didn’t make me happy, and it didn’t teach me how to make real friends.
But then I discovered acting – an art I had secretly longed to try but never had the guts to do it. I was afraid of people staring at me; I was afraid of being bad at it; I was afraid it would make people talk about me more.
I quickly discovered that none of that really matter, though. I was good at acting. Not only was I good at acting, I relished the art. Playing different characters and telling stories gave me opportunities to try on different masks and pretend to be someone that wasn’t me for a little while – someone more confident, someone edgier, someone more expressive, someone more likeable.
I could transform into someone I hated a little less.
I started adding to my dream: not only would a handsome Prince Charming fall in love with me, but I would be a famous actress. I would walk the red carpet, cameras flashing all around me, while I adorned the latest fashion trends and finally learned how to do my makeup. I could impact people with the stories I helped to tell.
I would have the time of my life making movies and theatre, portraying different people and living different lives. I would make it as an actress, despite the challenges of breaking into show business. I would have the courage to withstand the no’s and the talent to still get the roles I wanted. I would be happy, doing something I loved to do so much.
Or at least, that’s what I believed in my dreams.
Acting sparked the tiniest of flames within my heart – it unlocked a passion that I didn’t know was there. And while it didn’t stop the social attacks, it was at least a source of happiness that I hadn’t had before.
That tiny flame started to push just a little bit of the darkness out, and it started illuminating other passions and interests.
I discovered a deep fascination with psychology, which I decided to study in college, even though I really wanted to study theatre. I just wasn’t brave enough, and the rejections from the few BFA programs I applied to only reinforced my underlying belief that I just wasn’t good enough to be a professional performer. The light and confidence that theatre had given me as a teenager was not quite enough to push past my fears of failure.
But it was enough to keep me from letting it go entirely.
As much as I loved psychology, it didn’t make me happy the way acting did. The flickering light within me was bright enough to pull me back to it. I added it as a second major.
As fate would have it, the combination of theatre and psychology led me to the wild and fantastical (but very real) field of drama therapy.
The dream morphed yet again. I would go to graduate school and become a drama therapist. I would help pave the way in the tiny but growing field of drama therapy. I would make a difference as a healer. If I couldn’t be an actor, I could at least still use theatre to make a big difference in this world. I could hop on the very newly forged path of this field and see where it would take me.
The light in me was still small but growing steadily stronger.
Discovering drama therapy built up enough bravery to move from Ohio to San Francisco to pursue a master’s degree in it.
I arrived in SF, found an apartment, started grad school, and left my darkness and pain behind. I could start over here. I could be successful. No one knew who I was or what the others had said about me all those years ago.
Or, so I thought.
As it turned out, everything I thought I had left in the Ohio dust had stowed away in my luggage right under my nose. I had unknowingly locked them up for the time being, but they were patient. They waited, and waited, and waited, until just the right circumstances hit the trigger and let them out.
I felt just as bad as I did when I was in grade school. My peers now said the same things now as my peers had said when I was eight.
I guess I really hadn’t changed.
I had so many dreams: dreams of being rescued by my Prince Charming, who had never arrived. Dreams of making better friends who wouldn’t treat me the way my school friends had, but no matter where I went, people like them seemed to find me. Dreams of becoming a famous actress, though no schools or directors seemed to want me. Dreams of making a difference in drama therapy, except my peers made it clear that if I couldn’t get my crap together, I didn’t belong here, either.
Maybe there was no point in dreaming anymore. Maybe I was just setting myself up to be disappointed.
But I wasn’t eight anymore. And I could make a different choice this time.
So I did.
I started therapy for depression and anxiety.
I made the decision to have a spiritual connection with God, and to commune with them regularly.
I put my effort into cultivating the things that made me happy: acting, singing, writing, going to church, leading projects, and being generally creative.
I surrounded myself with people that had shown me their genuine love and support, and started learning to stop chasing the approval of those who would never give it to me.
I chose to focus on what I thought about myself, instead of what others thought of me.
And I started to see things differently.
I dreamed of reaching a point where I had expelled all of the darkness, where my spirit was full of nothing but light. I had healed myself to the point where I no longer thought about the bullies and pain of my past. I had become a wounded healer and used my story to impact others. I had all the tools I needed to navigate every hurdle and speedbump along my journey. I had so much faith in myself, that I didn’t need anyone else’s approval anymore.
I finally had the confidence to chase my dreams without my anxiety, depression, and self-loathing holding me back. I could do anything.
Time is a funny thing – especially for me. For many years, my past, present, and future were all tangled around me, locking me in place, no discernable boundaries I could see.
Time froze the moment my bullies chose to start harming me. They may have only used words, but words cut like a knife. They became the words that defined me – the words that I believed about myself.
No matter how much I grew and the world around me changed, my self-image remained stuck in the eight-year-old girl whose eyes were finally ‘opened’ to just how ‘wrong’ she was in this world. My past became my present.
I turned to daydreaming about my ideal future, which pulled me out of the painful present moment and allowed me to live a happier life, even if it was only in my head. It was a defense mechanism: a tool that protected me from giving up entirely. My future became my refuge from the past.
You can see how I lived with a funny and twisted relationship with time. My past defined my present, so I hated my present so much that I lived in the future, but when the future never manifested in the present, it further reinforced my past.
Much of my healing work involved disentangling time so I could see my past, present, and future for what they are. It was hard work, and it took years, but without proper boundaries around time, I knew I could never move forward.
Immense effort went into healing the wounds my bullies had inflicted for years. I had to learn that what they said to me, the things they had used to label and hurt me, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with them.
I now see my problematic and immature ‘sensitivity’ as an actual personality trait called ‘high sensitivity’. It means that I feel my feelings much more deeply than the average person, I am often emotionally impacted by the feelings of others, and I have a heightened sense of empathy. While this newfound knowledge doesn’t make living with high sensitivity any easier, it has helped me to reframe and appreciate how connected I am to my emotions and how deeply I feel my experiences. I often use those deeply felt experiences as the subject of my writing.
I now understand that the beliefs and self-hatred I had about myself for so many years were put on me by others – nothing that they had said about me was true because their words were not really about me, but stemmed from their own pain and insecurity. I have needs and I am allowed take care of myself – this is just as true today as it has been for my entire life.
That said, I can see how the ways I went about meeting those needs have been challenging to others throughout my life, but I can forgive myself, knowing that I had not learned how to interpret my own needs and appropriately ask for them to be met. I am just as human as everyone else – and I can finally see that they were wrong in treating me like I wasn’t.
I now know that I cannot control what others think of me, and that there are some people who are going to find fault in me no matter what I do. Looking back, I can finally see those people for the role they played in my life: bullies.
This has been the hardest for me to learn. I have always wanted to believe in the good in everyone, but that has led me to trust too quickly, and even in adulthood, I have found myself face to face with bullies. Feeling heartbroken and betrayed, I had to learn to walk away.
I found the courage to turn around and look at myself in the mirror, not just to see my wounds, my faults, and my pain, but to see my courage, my heart, and my worth.
And when I did that, I no longer needed to seek refuge in the future of my daydreams. My future isn’t my saving grace anymore. Yes, I still absolutely want to fall in love with my own handsome prince and have a family with him, and I aspire to use my gifts as a healer and performer to inspire others and change lives; I still hope to have all of the things I used to envision for myself, but I now know how to look for those things in the present, and how to meet my own needs while I wait for those future aspirations to unfold. My joy doesn’t depend on future people or events or opportunities; my joy is my choice, right here and now.
Because really, the future doesn’t exist, and neither does the past. The present is the only moment that exists for me. And I have finally found a present that is free of the chains of the past and resistant to the temptations of the non-existent daydreams of the future.
The present is where I continue to live an imperfect life, where I have the potential to move forward, where I enjoy relationships and connections with others, where I feel the sun warm my skin or the rain dampen my hair, where I hug my dog and boop his nose, where I do my nails, where I stare at a squirrel at the park, where I create and share and laugh and cry.
Where I heal.
Where I inspire.
That is where I choose to live.
Who I am is inspired by my past; who I strive to become is inspired by my future; who I am in the present is the person standing before you right now:
The wounded healer.
The giver and the receiver.
The storyteller and the listener.
The seer and the seen.
(Cover photo credit: Murray Campbell from Unsplash)