What am I?
At this very moment, I am a self-absorbed artist making work about my own psychological pain.
I always wanted to be special, surely everyone wants that? All you need is to discover your own specific brand of special.
I soon noticed that being special due to talent brings jealousy, and being special due to hard work invites contempt. And so I longed for nothing more than for my specialness to be weak, sickly, injured, lesser. Because to me, these meant loved, cared for. All I really wanted, I realised, was to be special and loved. And for there to be no expectation that I am anything more than a poor, weak, damaged thing, that needs to be cared for. And how selfish is that?
Yet on the other end of the dialectic, a question emerges. What if fragile, sensitive, etc. really is what I am? Had I been praised and adored for being small, quiet, sensitive, delicate and frail, I would have been able to acknowledge that I was those things. Thus my identity would have formed, in alignment with my natural inclinations. But that is not what happened. Instead, I learnt that these needs were not real, valid or worthy. And so, in denying them, I had to strive ever harder for an opposite. For surely the opposite of valid is invalid. And a concept that is invalid cannot be.
To be weak, sickly, sensitive, small, soft, shy, was not just viewed with contempt, it was completely denied. I observed over and over again that these traits, while recognised and reinforced in others, were ignored, discouraged and even ridiculed in me. That gave me a very clear message; the ways I think I feel, I must not feel; they are wrong.
Things are not hard for me.
I am lazy and must work harder.
But to need to work hard to be what one “is” must surely be shameful. So I must put in ten times the effort, but never break a sweat. I must insist it all comes easy. Because that must be the truth of existence; if what is natural to me is invalid, then to be valid, I must, necessarily, be everything that I am not.
I must be genius.
I cannot be creative.
I cannot be what comes effortlessly (frail, dreamy, imaginative, loving, nurturing, creative, quiet, observant), because those things are somehow wrong. So instead, I must appear effortlessly intelligent, high-achieving, clever.
And I must not ever show that I struggle, for that is to admit that I am not the only thing that my world tells me that it is acceptable to be. Only, the more I “effortlessly” achieve, the harder I must work. Both to achieve, and to erase any evidence of my effort.
And do you know what? I did. I did it wonderfully. I did it so well that I convinced everyone. I convinced myself. And in doing so, I forgot my real self. Forgot that there had ever been anything other than a miniature version of the overachiever I had become.
I used to be “A weak version of me, a me that didn’t try”.
But the truth is, I had to work hard to maintain the “genius”, leaving less and less energy for the “artist”. This exponentially increasing need to drive more and more energy into my lifestyle was not sustainable. I couldn’t keep going. Working harder and harder for less and less recognition, and no internal satisfaction.
From all sides.
And from within.
And criticism even, when falling short of my own ludicrously high standards.
And before long, I was so exhausted, and everything felt so wrong and not me. And so I became consumed by the injustice of it all. At myself, for so easily letting the world influence me and push me away from what I loved and towards something that would, inevitably, make me miserable.
And I became angry at the world.
The world that seemed to be always expecting a thousand times more, for half the reward. And dishing out punishment liberally for the constant failures that were the inevitable consequence of stakes set far too high.
And so I caught fire.
And I burnt so bright that my skin and hair turned red.
Dressed in black, I thrived on speed, cheap thrills and destruction. I had become another opposite. No longer able to maintain my status as “the very best”, I sought instead to be recognised as “the very worst”. I pushed and pushed and pushed at the boundaries of the world and discovered that there were none.
It was my first burnout. And it was a lot of fun.
But eventually I would have to pick up the pieces and rebuild a life, and guess what, I still had no clue as to who or what I was supposed to be. Or how to figure it out.
© Katy Matilda Neo 2017