I’ll admit to being a slow learner on this one, but maybe, just maybe I’m getting there.
The last few years have seen my self esteem plummet, and a raging battle within against bitterness and despair. Not that you could tell from looking at me, because it’s just not cool to admit to absolute crises of identity. Or more to the point, when your attempts to deal with said crises result in helpful comments like “You weren’t made to be like this”, maybe the attempted solution is more part of the problem than the original problem was.
So. In fact, there are two sets of lessons I could have learnt from these experiences.
Group 1 goes a bit like this:
- You’re a South African in the North East of England. You’re never going to fit in, so just act like you do.
- That feeling of upset you get from trying to act like you fit in when you don’t is a sign you’re not trying hard enough. Work harder.
- Of course nobody understands what you’re trying to say. You aren’t supposed to have a voice. People don’t want your message. People just want you to be like them. Just be good and fit in.
- You decided to come up here. You deserve every trouble that you get. The only way for you to get any kind of happiness is to change who you are and be who the people want you to be.
- You don’t want to change? You so don’t deserve to be happy.
- Ergo, bitterness. Sadness. Depression. An overwhelming feeling of not fitting in, and never ever being good enough.
Group 2 goes a bit like this:
- You’re a South African in the North East of England. Of course there are going to be cultural misunderstandings. But that doesn’t define you, or the people that surround you.
- You’re more than just a South African – you’re creative, and passionate, and perceptive and observant. It’s a combination that was occasionally frustrating in South Africa, and of course it will be a little frustrating in the North East of England too.
- That feeling of upset you get when you try to act like you fit in when you don’t is a different sort of frustration.
- Frustration isn’t bad. Frustration is just frustration. It reflects the need for something to change. It means you need to stop and think and work out a different way of doing – or being.
- You can’t change other people. You can only give them the relevant information. You can change yourself.
- Just because everybody is telling you you’re wrong, doesn’t mean you’re wrong. People speak out of any number of reasons – fear, pride, prejudice, power, as well as love, tradition and good intentions.
- If trying to be who everybody else thinks I ought to be is detrimental to my mental health, I should stop doing that.
- I should also find out who I truly am, remember all the things about myself that I was before I was depressed and trying to be who everybody else thinks I ought to be.
- My responsibility is to make sure I can stand up underneath all the people trying to tell me who I ought to be, when they are wrong.
- My responsibility is to use my talents – my passion, creativity, perception and observational skills to help other people who are walking this road too.
- I am not responsible for keeping other people comfortable and happy. I am not even responsible for keeping myself comfortable.
- I am responsible for being honest, and trying to be the best version of myself that I can be.
- When I am focussed on being the best version of myself, I care less about what other people think, care more about doing what God wants, and find fulfilling ways o spend my time.
- Happy family, happy husband, happy Rox.
Obviously, Group 2 is the way to go.
It’s also way, way harder.
You have to resist the pity party. You have to resist the negative messages, you have to decide to do positively who you are.
You have to stop apologising, and start being awesome.
But we live in a society that demands apologies the moment we step out of a preconstructed box of behaviours that has been built for us. We live constrained by what other people think, or might think.
And when we don’t have the courage to step out of our own boxes, we put an awful lot of effort into keeping other people in theirs. (Why people do this remains a mystery to me. I just know it’s true. I have the footprints on my head to prove it.)