I’m not the type of person who opens up. I don’t have a lot of experience letting the people around me know how I’m feeling at any given moment. I often feel like I’m caught between who I am and who other people think I am. As a result it feels like I’m constantly walking on eggshells to be the person everyone expects me to be. That’s always been difficult for me, but I thought it was just normal. I thought walking on eggshells was human nature.
Recently, though, I realized that I feel constrained by the effort of keeping my balance. It makes it difficult for me to change and grow because I worry about how other people will perceive me, a different me, maybe.
For a long time, I’ve been scared to let myself change because I was comfortable with how I was. I feel safe knowing that my friends like spending time with me, knowing that I can usually strike the right balance of humor and gravity, knowing that I intimidate people who don’t know me because my resting face looks brooding (so I’m told). I’m mostly comfortable with the dynamics of who I am. Or I was.
But those dynamics are easily upset. Every now and then, I’m overcome by an emotion so strong that it fills my body up, clouds my brain and seeps out into the space around me. Sometimes I can be doubled up for minutes on end, unable to control myself as I just laugh and laugh, even if nothing’s funny. Other times, it’s a really unwelcome but familiar sadness that settles over me until it feels like I’m physically sinking in a bog. Worst of all is the anger which can well up inside me, smoldering beneath my skin. This is the one that’s easiest for other people to see, and it’s also the one that can hurt other people the most.
That’s the real me, the one I usually try to keep out of sight. Those emotions build up until I can’t ignore them any more. They are the reason I’m scared to open up. I’m afraid that if I can’t keep these emotions under control they can turn toxic.
So for a while, I’ve been stuck in a state of limbo. I’m afraid to open up, to let people know the real me, so I try to maintain my brand. I try to be the person I think I’m supposed to be, the one that everyone around me knows. I’m afraid of change, both in my whole life and specifically in my friendships, because I’m worried that I won’t be able to keep up. That I’ll always be stuck in this limbo.
But the thing is, my friends already know the real me. They’ve seen me at my moments of side-splitting hilarity, when I’m mired in melancholy or when I’m boiling over with rage. They know who I am. As hard as I’ve tried to consistently be the person I think I have to be, the person I really am still comes out. My friends have seen it burst out when I can’t contain my laughter. They’ve seen it ooze out when I feel depressed. Worst of all, they’ve felt it radiating off of my skin in waves of anger like heat rising from tarmac.
I realized that I feel constrained because I need to give myself the chance to grow. Whether I like it or not, change happens. Friendships get deeper or more distant. Plans for the future can shift on a dime. Life marches on. If I don’t let myself change with it, life is going to leave me behind in a cloud of dust and a whole big mess of emotions that I never quite figured out how to control.
To give myself the space I need to grow, I have to abandon the person I used to always think I had to be. It’s easy, almost natural, to fall back on that person and push my emotions aside, but if I don’t reckon with them head on they’ll only get more toxic. I have to put a lot of trust in my friends, trust that they’ll stand by me, forgive my mistakes and help me feel more comfortable being myself around them. Luckily, I have amazing friends and I do trust them. They’ve stuck with me so far.
I have to accept that it’s normal to laugh uncontrollably, to feel constricting sadness, to be consumed by anger — but I can’t ignore these emotions until they overwhelm me. I have to give them the space to manifest in healthy ways. I have to let myself be vulnerable and trust that it will get easier over time, until eventually there’s no difference between who I am and who people think I am.