Just Go With It

Like so many young people, I struggled in adapting to life after college. Not so much in the economical or career sense, but in the social. I had spent several arduous years cultivating a tight-knit group of female friends that seemingly easily dispersed post-graduation. It would take me years to understand that the commitment of those friendships didn’t change, just the physical exposure to the people. But I was young, dumb, and lonely.

I was also dealing with 24 years of unresolved emotional issues, which landed me in therapy. Easily this was the greatest rock-bottom of my relatively short life, because therapy forced me to question myself in every conceivable way. One of the many results of this was an identity crisis. When my therapist challenged my concept of self, I realized that I could, actually, be anyone I wanted to be. I was elated. And horrified. But mostly I was scared to try anything new with people who already knew me.

Enter Fe, Fi, and Fo. These three people would ultimately change who I was as a person by forcing me into a situation of choice. Their first impressions of me were entirely different than anyone else in my life. They may have saw me as naive, most people do, but they also saw a purpose in me that I didn’t recognize at the time. They were friends, long before I came along, but we somehow quickly morphed into a four headed monster of a friendship.

This was my chance, I thought. This was my blank slate. Most people spend their adolescent years trying on different personalities and lifestyles. I was too busy assuming the burden of responsibilities that weren’t my own. I didn’t get to experiment. I never let myself. But suddenly, at nearly 25, I felt the freedom to do so. And I got carried away in this world were these people looked at me like delicious, damaged fruit. My bruises made me juicier, and we would sit around the table, pouring drinks, smoking weed, and comparing scars. They made me think my issues were charming, that my neurotic behavior made me special. Who doesn’t want to feel special?

From an outsider prospective, it was easy to see that the relationship was beyond unhealthy – it was diseased. Fe and Fi were married, happily or unhappily – it depended on the day. Their relationship was rife with miscommunication, guilt, and secrets. I know because they each told me different things. Fo was a friend of theirs, nearly 10 years their junior. Later on, Fe, Fi, and Fo would form a sort of ménage a trois. They were “challenging society’s concept of monogamy”. I was slightly nauseous.

For the solid year and a half of our intense relationship, my mantra remained “just go with it”. I said it after my first, second, and consecutive hits off their blunt. I said it as I mixed my benzodiazepines with alcohol. I said it as every moral line I held was crossed, and every ethical bridge I had built was burnt. I said it after all of these choices led me to an incapacitated state, and I came to being violated by the people who called me special.

I wanted so badly to see if I could be someone else. I wanted to believe I was a part of something so special that other people couldn’t understand it. But even as it does in those formative, adolescent years, the sheen of excitement wears off and you’re exposed to the grime underneath. After almost two years, I came up for air and didn’t recognized my surroundings, but I finally recognized myself.

And I walked away.

These people hurt me in ways I’m still deconstructing. But they aren’t bad people. Fe is an unhappy person, trying everything in their power to make themselves, Fi, and Fo happy – no matter what the cost. Fi is a narcissist, without question, but with enough charm to fool the Pope. Fo has borderline personality disorder, and is one of the most exhausting people in the world to be near. Individually they could stand a chance – together they’re a masochistic Cerberus. They devour one another. For a while, I made their toxicity okay. I was a common denominator. Until I didn’t want to be that anymore.

To anyone on the outside, I’m an asshole who abandoned their closest friends. I’m Judas. I’m the person who left their friends for a romantic partner. I’m the jerk. I’m the villain. I’ll gladly take that title. I’ll be the villain in their story as long as I’m the protagonist in my own.

Difficult People

If getting along with people was an Olympic sport, I’d medal in it. I’m not saying I would take home gold, but I had at least 18 years of training of being agreeable, and that’s no small feat. I’d like to think that I’ve matured and, to borrow the expression “grown a backbone” in my years outside of my parents home. But my default is always ‘playing well with others’.

Until recently.

I’ll confess that there is someone who I work with who just…infuriates me. I would call it irrational if the person in question wasn’t so polarizing. I worked through it for the first 6 months; painfully navigating a friendly interaction every time. But then, about 2 months ago, it felt like something inside of my literally broke. I could no longer manage the initial greeting or pleasantry. I stopped going out of my way to offer help. I started speaking only when spoken to, and referring this individual to our boss whenever possible.

Initially I was disappointed in myself. Though I now strongly disagree with the idea that women should be raised to be complacent and nice above all else, I am proud of my composure and treatment of people. To react so viscerally to someone who I only knew within a work context seemed unfair and petty of me.

But as time has passed, and as I’ve listened to other people share my same concerns over this individual, I’ve come to realize that some people just don’t mesh. This person and I could not be more different in temperaments, perspectives, or the way we approach problems. It makes sense that it would be difficult for us to work together. I had established early on that I would bend to make things more comfortable for everyone – an act that I now partially regret. Realizing my mistake and changing my behavior, while warranted, has made me appear angry and uncooperative.

I deal with that now, and I focus on my work and less on my interactions. I’m still cordial and polite and never go out of my way to be sardonic. But I’m less likely to extend lunch invitations and more likely to hold this person accountable when they mess up – as I would expect from them.

Truth is Stranger

A thought kept occurring to me on my morning commute, as I went over and over the changes I’ve been through in the past year. To think back to January of 2017 is to imagine a completely different life than what I have now.

The thought that kept coming up this morning was related to escapism, and how I used to use it as a crutch. All my life, since childhood, I’ve used books and stories as a way to escape reality. Fiction was always more comforting, more exciting, and easier to digest than truth.

As I started reaching the apex of my emotional transition, my reality became so overwhelming that I started writing fiction into my real life. I was no longer escaping into books, but I was escaping into an imagined version of myself. While I think it is incredibly important to try on different versions of yourself, the truth is that I wasn’t even playing the role of myself – I was trying to be someone else entirely.

The problem with creating a fiction of yourself is that you start to lose the truth. Looking back, I can see the slow process of me chipping away at the things which are important to me. It’s not until I finally dropped the facade,  put down the book, and looked around that I realized what I had done, and what I had lost. Rebuilding the destruction of yourself can be a slow processes, but it’s worth ever inch of ground covered.

Is true what they say, that often truth is stranger than fiction. Whatever role I was trying to play is small potatoes compared to the person I am now. And I wouldn’t trade the person I am now for anything.

The Last Session

When I sat in my therapists office for what would, potentially, be the very last time, he told me that most people just late cancel on a session and never come back. Or they just stop scheduling appointments without discussion.

I was shocked by this. Partially because I find it kind of rude, but mostly because I couldn’t fathom the absence of closure. I needed to have this last session with him. I needed to wrap up the last two and a half years with one last conversation, one last congratulation.

To me, that last session was physical representation of emotional and mental growth. It was the culmination of everything I’ve done, everything I’ve learned about myself, and everything I need to remember move forward.

I needed to sit in that chair across from him and not fear the conversation. I needed to experience seeing him as a partner in my emotional/mental growth, rather than a superior that was going to fix me.

And that’s exactly what happened. When I left his office that last time, I fully owned my right to have been there in the first place – something I had struggled with so intensely at first.

The Casualties of Authenticity

My journey to self-discovery has been 2.5 years and several thousand dollars in the making. Being both impatient and rather frugal, it hasn’t been the easiest road. And yet I wouldn’t trade that time or resources for anything: because here I am – nearly 27 and finally an authentic, albeit rough, version of myself.

Anyone who has struggled with self-esteem, mental health issues, an identity crisis, or has gone through a general personality change, is probably aware of the occasional loss of friends, partners, family members, etc. that sometimes happen. Not to negate their pain or struggles, but in the end these experiences are routine with growth and development.

It’s sometimes difficult to identify the exact point where you recognize that your individual paths start veering in opposite directions. In 2.5 years, I’ve parted ways with a handful of people; friends and partners. Sometimes it happens naturally – a gradual drifting apart without comment or recognition. Other times, it’s more dramatic – it’s a falling-out, an exclamation or accusation made in anger, or the burning of a bridge.

Both are sad to me. Both result in the ending of something, and I’ve never been particularly fond of endings. In the past, I had two coping mechanisms for this: avoidance and ignorance. Neither worked particularly well. I always felt it was my responsibility to fix things, or to make amends, often while sacrificing my own authenticity in the meantime.

I did no one a service in my actions. I put band aids on leaks in dams that burst anyways. I ignored my own needs to try and keep peace, only to end up being a terrible friend or partner because I wasn’t being myself – and therefore wasn’t happy. I avoided situations that turned worse without attention.

But the beauty of mistakes is that you can learn from them. I’m not always proud of the way I’ve reacted, but I am proud of learning to recognize my own needs and growth. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world isn’t to be honest with other people – but to be honest with yourself.

Sometimes, others’ perceptions of you will remain stagnant despite personal growth. Often what is apparent to us internally isn’t obvious to others. That’s okay. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just the nature of relationships. If something is broken, it may just need time and space to heal. Or it may be something that shouldn’t be repaired. Honesty with ourselves is integral in finding the appropriate action for the situation.