September 14, 2020
There is the weight of “supposed to” engraved on my back. It ignites like a brand from a molten-hot iron when I start to compare. Whether it is the latest phenomenon at the height of her success or my best friend who is so adored. I am “supposed to” be more: engaging, shocking, accommodating, sane, inspiring, gregarious. The words constantly change but the message does not. I am deficient.
This erodes me at the most unpredictable of times. It creeps in while watching a popular, new series on Netflix written by a woman, sincerely acknowledging a colleague’s work, observing the seamless movements of a stranger. Success prompts the tingling of insufficiency to spider along my spine. It is not envy… more of caustic disappointment at my own shortcomings.
The perpetual stirring has been part of my lexicon prior to my acknowledgement of its existence. The myth of having it all, doing it all, being it all, has fuelled this demon on my back. I was imbued with the belief that I ushered in a new generation of women who had a fulfilling career, parented, kept their homes pristine, as well as their bodies. Let’s not forget the commitment to your community through numerous charity boards, committees and bake sales. Pile on kids’ activities, must keep those kids busy and for your personal pleasure nights out with the girls as you are an independent woman! The to do list was endless and choking. I would turn my head from left to right and observe my friends, co-workers, acquaintances. I saw them managing it all, without a hair out of place.
I saw what I wanted to see. It reinforced the narrative that was deeply embedded in my mind. I ignored the fact that an acquaintance who did not work outside the home had the dedicated time to cook amazing meals. I looked away when a friend shared her story of the difficulty of conceiving, minimalizing her pain because she had so much more. I ignored complaints of body image and diet disasters because in my mind, my struggle was more profound.
When you are “supposed to” be everything to everyone, you become hollow. My perspective was so narrow, I could not participate in my own life. I had isolated myself into a box of self-pity and martyrdom. Fragments of myself were strewn all over society while resentments were ballooning spilling onto everyone I interacted with. Life was unsustainable.
When your relationships are in small piles at your feet and you are staring at them, unsure if you care enough to bend over and try to cradle some life back into them, you know you must take a step. Something, anything. Other than my physical structure, I could not have told you what was left of me. I finally chose to confront the fire consuming me. Dismantling this internal mindset would take years. I had to take a personal inventory of who I was and how I got here. I began to question the belief of my “supposed to” and its roots. I wrote down what my needs, desires and dreams were. I held space for my thoughts.
Beautiful, dangerous, thoughts.
Although the rejection of this old, prescriptive mindset no longer served me, this narrative that had been careful sown still benefited many. Not everyone around me embraced this new shift. This surprised me, as I was so terrifyingly void inside that I expected everyone around me to throw me a parade as I changed. A snake of tension coiled itself around every choice I made as I began setting boundaries and listening to my needs. The pushback was often shattering. I would return to the battering voices: “you are supposed to be…”
Acceptance of my fragility paradoxically strengthens my internal marrow. “Be gentle” has become my mantra. I sit with myself and ask her what she wants and needs again and again. I shut down the clamouring crowds repeatedly. The taste of confusion sits at the back of my mind often. That brand starts to light up as I feel the old insecurities flood me. I still find myself swimming in confusion when the old message comes searing so abruptly. Am I deficient? This work is lifelong and ongoing. I know I will never completely extinguish the brand but most days it is just a charred reminder.