I was raised by a mother who was petrified anyone would ever find out that she was abusing me. She molded me at a young age to hide any signs of abuse. This doesn’t just mean not talking about it (that was a given – never ever tell anyone a thing!) But also not “looking the part.”
Part of playing the role of “everything is fine… nothing to see here…. Move along” is having a perpetually blissful look on one’s face. And so I was raised to always look happy and smiley. Of course, my issues would bubble over with spontaneous tantrums and fits because I was never taught how to really BE happy or cope with frustration. I threw people off with my cute little face and cheery persona, crumbling into a purple, screaming, snot-filled mess at the hint of conflict.
I was a socially inept child. I was easy to trigger. Easy to tease. I was so hungry for acceptance and love but I had no friggen clue how to attain it. And so I went through my days ready to shatter at any moment – like the shifting of plates beneath the earth’s surface ready to create some earthquake of intense magnitude and destroy everything around it. Underneath my smile there was always a disaster about to happen. A 9 on the Richter scale.
As the years went by, I learned how to shapeshift and acclimate to my surroundings and even reflect the appropriate emotion to the situation I was in. Kind of like an alien being in the world, I observed and studied and self-reflected until I got a little closer to getting it right. Of course, I made about a bazillion mistakes along the way, and I am pretty sure anyone who knows me will say that I am odd and quirky, but I have managed to shape myself into the image of a good person.
I have grown accustomed to the feeling of not fitting in, the way someone grows accustomed to chronic pain when dealing with lifelong arthritis. You have your bad days and you have awful days – but you will always feel that dull throbbing of pain even if it is the best day you ever have.
I carry the burdens that all adult children of the abusive and mentally ill parents carry. A big bag of useless crap that I have worked on emptying out more and more as my life marches on, but I still carry something around with me – albeit a little lighter. Still a big useless bag on my tired shoulders. I hope one day to downsize to a fanny pack or a cute little cross body. But I am not there yet.
For most of this year, I have spent my time at my job essentially a stranger to many people. A strategy I carry in my handy-dandy tool belt is distance. And also the smiling. Cheerful and witty. Jokes and laughter. They don’t get too close when they are slapping a knee at some funny little comment.
Laughter also bonds and connects you to like-minded people. So, eventually, if they stick around after they are done laughing and want to hear more of what you have to say, you have found a hidden gem in this quagmire of existence that sometimes makes it all worth it.
And that is when friendships begin.
And when friendships begin, that is when I can let my smile slip a little, put my performance aside, and be a little more settled. A little quieter. That is when I can hear someone else’s story and recognize that there are more of us out there than I realize there are. It’s like a secret handshake and you feel this sweet relief when you know you are with your kind.
Eventually, they show themselves to you. As they say – your vibe attracts your tribe.
My tribe apparently consists of colorful misfits…. Those who also have their secret weapons against the world. The sharpest knife we wield, though, is the weapon of forced normalcy. To the blind, untrained eye, it looks almost like nothing.
We are skilled performers with our craft. When life becomes a daily performance and the motivation is to hide the crazy away deep down where no one can see it or know about it, you’re damned straight we perfect those skills and bang out the performance of a lifetime Every. Damn. Day.
But – we are skilled in recognizing when the mask on one of our own is slipping. When we see one of our tribe flubbing his or her lines. When something is off. Off with the smile. The confident swagger. A millisecond behind in our timing.
We just know.
And that is when the truth comes out.
I am recognizing that I do not get a trophy at the end of all this – especially doing all of this without reaching out for some help along the way.
I am needing help.
I called my therapist again. It’s been months but he knows when I call that he needs to shift some appointments around to get me in.
Most of all – when the ones who I have let get to know me ask me how I am doing, I know it is because they see that they do need to ask. It is necessary to ask.
And – when they do ask me – I know it is because they see something that I am trying not to let them see. But they need to see it. And it is necessary for me to tell them the truth.
“Help…” I whisper.
And just like that – I am a bit closer to shore.
Once I dry off, I have so much work to do.