I tell my children to be themselves. “Always be yourself,” I say, “don’t let anyone else define who you are or what you believe.”
When I was seventeen I met the boy who would become my husband and the father of my three children. Our relationship spanned two decades. I was a wife, a homeschooling mother, a wannabe writer…I was a lot of things, including pretty depressed, but I didn’t admit that part. Pity the person that questioned my authenticity and happiness. In my “be who you are” fervor I started publishing an alternative homeschooling zine encouraging others to be themselves. I spent hours each week answering emails and spewing my advice to be strong and proud of who you are even in the face of dire circumstances and the rejection of friends and family. I had little tolerance for people who were afraid to fling their unique selves out there for all to see. Yet each time I hit “send” I felt a little more unsure of exactly what the hell I was doing. Three kids, a big house, a nice husband, that is what I wanted damnit! Wasn’t it?
I started to really question who I was, but I couldn’t tell anyone that. My solution to this questioning of faith was to yell louder, “Be yourself! Be yourself!” My solution was to be less tolerant of those people around me that seemed to be hiding behind a mask. I shunned people that I perceived as taking the easy way out.
Sometime around my 36th birthday things started to go a little wonky. People in my life started dying and going crazy. My grandma died, two friends committed suicide, and at some point during all of this I had to fly another friend across the country while she was smack dab in the middle of a psychotic break. The women that were dying and going crazy were people who were fiercely themselves no matter what the consequence. I sat in my safe little life and commanded, “Be who you are!” while they died and lost their minds doing just that. Maybe when it came to me I didn’t believe so much in being who I was as much as I believed in being whatever was easiest.
My own breakdown came on pretty slowly. It started with a fun ride on the manic rollercoaster and ended in the deep well of depression. When the dust settled and I finally climbed out of that dank well things looked very different. My husband left, I lost the house, my finances were a disaster, my kid got pregnant. My breakdown had wiped my identity clean. I guess I crawled right out of that well and right into me. These days I am a mother, a lesbian, an activist, a writer, a granny…mostly though, I am myself. I still believe that being yourself is the only way to be, just take it slow, okay?
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