Tuesday, January 22, 2013

This Is Where We Start.

The first post back after an absence is always the hardest, I think. As the time passes, I’ve accumulated an ocean's worth of words that I haven’t written (at least not to completion) and figuring out where to start always leaves me a bit overwhelmed. I probably would have started posting again a week ago if I had found a good jumping-off point. I still haven’t, which is why I’m writing this point. It’s a transition post to get me jump-started again.

There was a post I wanted to write on January 2. It was another New Year-type post, something to reconcile the frustrations of December 31 and the cautious optimism of January 1That’s where I’ve been stuck. I felt like I couldn’t write about anything else until I finally choked this one out. So this is it, more or less.

I’ll be honest – the end of 2012 was rough. Most of 2012 was rough. I’d been trying to put down on paper (or pixels) exactly why this was, what was bothering me… and it was hard, because it was eluding me. On the surface, I was happy. The January 1 recap of the previous year showed a shiny year full of accomplishments and traveling to new places and all-around goodness that was woven into the story of 2012. Things were going swimmingly. But on the inside, though, I was incredibly discouraged. I was noticeably unhappy, and this feeling of despair was starting to latch on to me and I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t just depression – I know what that feels like. It felt like all of the demons in my head were actively prancing around, trying to break me. It was working.

I tried to write it out. That was always my solution, and it had always worked. But the iron vise around my throat wasn’t relenting, and the words weren’t coming. I kept reading posts about words – the words people used for 2012, the word they wanted to anoint upon 2013. I had found an old post of mine where I had wanted my word for 2012 to be “simplify.” It was perfect at the time. I wanted to cut the excess out of my life, I wanted to stop feeling overwhelmed. Social obligations, clutter, not enough time, too much stuff. I wanted to cut it down to only what I needed.

I made it worse.

I’m not sure what word actually ended up describing 2012, but the only things I could come up with were “self-doubt” and “insecurity.” These are not good words, people. But there they were, present in almost every detail of my mundane life. They were the catalyst for my creative frustrations (namely, that I wasn’t creating.) They circled around me as I fretted about my weight gain, about my messy apartment, about my tendency to be chronically late and undependable, about my certainty that I was an awful friend sometimes and that I frequently got too wrapped up in my own issues to see what was going on around me. They kept me company on the days I spent wishing I could just crawl back into bed and hide under the blankets until the world decided to leave me alone.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and had a lot of tear-filled conversations and lots of fetal-position naps and suddenly it clicked. I traced it back to the feeling I had when I returned from Vegas, when I felt like I had been trying too hard and that I hadn’t connected with anyone the way I had the previous year. When I had felt like a phony and that I didn’t belong. THAT was the clearest moment that I could trace the root of all of my misery to.

You know what the problem was? It’s obvious in hindsight.

I wasn’t being myself.

I WAS trying too hard. I was trying to be cool and hip and funny and witty and outgoing and trend-savvy and all of these things that I’m not. I’m happiest when I’m by myself because when I’m by myself, I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m just me. I’m quiet and a bit reserved and much more thoughtful (not in the sense of doing thoughtful things, but in the sense of being reflective and contemplative) and I love absolutely nothing more than to sit and read a book or scribble in my notebook. I like smaller groups of people. I’d much rather sit around someone’s living room drinking wine and telling stories than going to a party or a bar and getting lost in a crowd. I love nerdy jokes and I have a strong distaste for popular culture. I’d rather watch a movie in my pajamas than hit the nightlife. I always tried to play the role of the sophisticated young professional, an accomplished career woman making it in the big city, I thought it was what I wanted. What I want to do is hole away in an apartment, with a mug of hot chocolate and my cat, punching words into a computer, making stories come to life. I’d rather be a novelist hiding in a small town than a corporate executive in a sparkly city. Perhaps that’s why I never got around to leaving the Midwest; I could have, but it felt wrong.

I mentioned in my last post how I was resentful of all of those blogs and articles and books I’ve either read or heard mentioned about being authentic and intentional, and I was to the point where if I heard one more person refer to their “authentic self” or “living with intention” I was going to throw my computer out the window. It sounded fake and pretentious and ultimately like Not a Real Thing. The problem, ironically enough, is that those people were on to something. I realize this now because I haven’t been authentic, not to myself. I mean, I haven’t been running around lying to the world, but I’ve been exaggerating aspects of my personality in order to make people like me. This is stupid, because it’s not only exhausting, but it’s making people – if their bullshit detectors aren’t ringing – like the wrong me, a Kelly-on-steroids that I can’t sustain. Eventually, inevitably, I’m going to run out of battery and that’s when I lock myself away, hiding in my safe spaces, feeling like a failure. It’s unpleasant, but it’s been a cycle that’s hard to break.

When I was in my early teens, I very much had a fixation on quotations (not that that’s terribly different than now, but I got all the cliché quotes out of my system then) and had purchased a little wallet-sized quote card with Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true” on it. It seemed like such a profound revelation at the time; I knew it was important. I didn’t heed the advice, but it’s been tucked in the back of my mind. I was more interested in surviving the social landscape of high school and then college. I was desperate for people to like me. I thrived off their acceptance. I needed it. [Relevant link: this post from almost a year ago.]  

I had an epiphany on Sunday, in the middle of a conversation with the BF, who has this really irritating tendency to not only be right, but to be so profound in his right-ness that I sometimes wish I could write down everything he says and pass them off as my own thoughts. Because I’m pretty sure I could write a best-selling self-help book if I could mine the contents of his brain. The actual words in this conversation are unimportant, and I’m dancing the line of things I said I wasn’t going to write about online, but I think it’s important to share my takeaway from this, because it’s two days later and I feel like a huge, huge weight has been lifted off of me. I’ve slept really well the last two nights, better than I have slept in months. It was a more restful sleep, somehow. So noticeably so that I was kind of disoriented when I woke up.

The epiphany is this: my tendency to hide under this public-facing persona that I’ve set up for myself has created some friction with some of my close relationships. It’s impossible to be genuine when you’re pretending to be something that you’re not; and while I try to be me, the real me, when I’m with those people… sometimes it’s hard to switch back. I’m fighting for the acceptance of people that already accept me for who I am. It’s become such a habit that I don’t even realize when I’m doing it

It’s ironic, because the relationships I value the most – the boyfriend, some of my closest girl friends – are exactly the opposite of the outgoing, fun-loving personality that I’ve been trying to wear. They’re down to earth, they’re thoughtful, they’re smart. They stay away from the drama of social media, for the most part, and they live their lives in the world, not on the Internet. They’re the people I’m most comfortable with, the ones I feel can see past all the shit on the outside and like the Real Kelly that I have a hard time accepting. Most of all, they’re themselves, all the time. The BF, especially, has gotten increasingly frustrated, and who’s to blame him? Who wants to be with someone that isn’t being themselves? We work best when I take my shields down and revert to my “natural state” – and he all but flat out told me this weekend that if I wasn’t going to be myself, this relationship was doomed. It was hard to hear, but at the same time – isn’t that what I wanted all along? Someone who wanted me for me, the real me, who understood me and saw my flaws and wanted to be with me anyway? I’m reasonably certain that I have that written down in a journal somewhere. And yet here it is, in front of me, and I’m royally screwing it up by playing my game of trying to be popular to people I don’t care about (which is to say, most of the world. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that I was still on some level trying to impress the people from high school that I never felt good enough around.)

I’ve been caught up in the “facebook culture” where I play the game and grasp for attention because I’ve learned to need validation. Why? That’s bullshit. The only person I need validation from is myself, and I haven’t given myself permission to grant it. I love you all, but I can’t give you the power to make me feel like a good person or a bad person, like a worthy person or a waste of space. That has to come from ME. And I’ve been searching for it on the outside, and it’s been a disaster.

It’s so funny, today, when I think about it. Not funny ha-ha, but funny strange. It’s like I’m stepping outside of myself and watching. Something clicked. When I read Ashley’s post about closing comments on her blog because she was writing for herself, writing for the sake of writing, not writing for an audience… that resonated with me. (I'm not closing comments... I like feedback and now that I have Disqus, we might actually be able to have conversations here - which I'm really excited about. So, we'll still have comments, at least for the foreseeable future.) As I read the incoming bios of BiSC Class of 2013, I’m starting to relax, I’m forcing myself not to obsess over whether they’ll like me – I’m trying really hard not to put on a show. I’m trying to be myself. They’ll like me better that way, anyway. 

I need to change my mindset – social media is a tool for communication, it is a fun way to pass the time, to keep in touch with people, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. It’s not filling a void – it’s an accessory. It’s pretty and fun, but not necessary. It’s all fake, anyway. Just like advertising, just like marketing. We’re managing our personal brands. I’m tired of being a brand. I want to be a person again. It’s been said a million times, but I’ll repeat it: facebook is a highlight reel, it’s image projection at the most base definition. People want to make themselves look good. It’s a giant game of ego, and it’s easy to get caught into that trap. It’s so, so easy to play the comparison game (oh, but that’s another post for another time) and feel less than good enough, or worse, to engage in heavy competition for betterness. It’s exhausting and it’s a game that no one wins. I’m not saying people lie, but reality is definitely skewed.

My goal for the year is to be cognizant of myself. To be aware of when I’m reaching for the safety net of Fake Kelly and to consciously flip that switch back so I’m being myself. 2013 is going to be about getting my train back on the track, about getting my outlook back in balance, about somehow convincing myself that I’m actually as awesome as I pretend to be, without all of the fanfare and without all of the pretenses. Maybe 2013 will be about perseverance – just keep swimming, just keep swimming. I held on in 2012, I held on until my knuckles were bruised and bloody, until I couldn’t feel my fingers, until I was convinced I was going to let go. But I didn’t. I held on tight and I’m trying now to hoist my leg back up over the side (of what, I don’t know, metaphors have never really been my strong suit) and pull myself upright.

My other goal is to write shorter posts, but let’s tackle one thing at a time, mmmkay?


Kelly L said...

God, girl, I'm so glad you wrote this out.

Many thoughts. 1. I'm really sorry your 2012 was so rough - mine was too and not in any way I've even been able to truly parse yet so. I feel you and you have my empathy. 2. It might amuse you to known that last year at bisc I was intimidated by you because you seemed so in the know and excited and full of life. I could definitely see that you were "on", but it didnt strike me as obnoxious or trying too hard or any of that. That said, I totally respect if it felt that way to you and I applaud you for having enough self awareness to recognize it and the wherewithal to want to change it. 3. You're absolutely not alone in worrying about being liked. I am too, intensely, and you know what, the internet IS a highlight reel, as you said, and the fact is while I accept this isn't the case for every blogger, there's a reason some of us took to the internet to express ourselves and make friends. 4. A lot of the life coachy shit about intention and authenticity CAN ring really false, but there is a good message under it, a true one, and I bet if you dig around enough you'll find someone who speaks those concepts in a language you understand, you know? 5. Do you, Kelly. The real Kelly sounds fantastic to me. All the love, and I really am looking forward to seeing you again.

Kelly L said...

This is so, so spot on. I am a people pleaser, which is only inflated approximately 4,586 by the internet, and I often wonder if I'm being too flashy by sharing so much of what I'm up to or how happy I am. Am I making people jealous? Resentful? Oh, better not look too happy because there are people less fortunate; oh and don't be too sad either because there's always someone that has it worse. HOLY VICIOUS CYCLE BATMAN. You strike me as an awesome, caring, thoughtful person and I'm really excited to see see you again in Vegas.

Kelly L said...

I hate that your 2012 was so crap and I there are so many things that I can relate to in this post. Why do we have to be a brand and live up to the personality we've created online and not just be our multi-faceted selves who aren't always "ON"? What if we want to step away from the group and just watch or even be alone? I think what we might find is that all of us are always trying to impress each other and be liked and sometimes end up not so true to ourselves. So here's to all of us worrying less about whether we can get everyone to like us. Lastly, I was so glad to have met you at BiSC because, despite how you might have felt later, you seriously made me feel right at home even though I was new and utterly nerve-wracked that first day. You are delightful and I adore your honesty and I can't wait to see you again. Sending so many hugs your way!

Kelly L said...

Kelly, I have no idea how I missed the post last year after Vegas that you linked to. So I'm going to respond to that first. I'm so happy that I was able to make you feel even a tiny bit better during our conversation. I adore you and I think you're fantastic, and I hope that you know and feel that about yourself.

It's easy to get into a game of comparison and overcompensation and guilt - it's a vicious cycle. Just do you, be you, and let the rest fall away. If you lose some friends because of that, it just means they didn't really know the real Kelly. But you know what? I bet you'll find that new friends come along because of it. I have always tried to remind myself that friends may come and friends may go (after all, it's part of life), but friendships are always growing and changing to accommodate our own growth and change.

Vegas is a lot of fun, and BiSC is full of really great people, but it's also a lot of build-up and expectation to live up to. Maybe not everyone handles it the same way you or I handle it, and I admire them for it. I had so much fun, but at the end of the day I almost felt burned out from having to be ON for so many hours. Like you, I'm more comfortable in smaller groups where real conversation can take place. The challenge with being in a large group of really dynamic, fascinating personalities is that you find yourself trying harder and harder to stand out. I don't know - this is just my two cents. I wouldn't trade my three visits to BiSC for anything in the world, but there is a tiny amount of me that's relieved that I don't have to try so hard to stand out, again.

My wish for you this year is that you really let your guard down. Don't give a shit what anything thinks of you. Just be yourself. Do what you want to do and react the way you want to react. Go into this year knowing that these experiences are for you, not anyone else. And in the meantime, email me anytime you want to chat. XO

Kelly L said...

I love your last goal ... "write shorter posts"

I read this one. In its entirety. I'm glad you wrote this.

So: "I like smaller groups of people. I’d much rather sit around someone’s living room drinking wine and telling stories than going to a party or a bar and getting lost in a crowd. I love nerdy jokes and I have a strong distaste for popular culture. I’d rather watch a movie in my pajamas than hit the nightlife," — why are you not over here all the time then? :)

Also, this post is basically why I've not finished the steps to setup glam media ads on my site. I'm into writing what I want to write about now, and that's usually not the stuff that people really care about reading. I also don't want to commit to having "programming" all the time because that's what I feel like I'm doing. Dammit, I'm a person, not a brand. And if I want to write about all the cool shit I got on vinyl this week on my "sweet tunes thursday" regular feature that nobody reads, then I will. (because I got a lot of cool shit on vinyl this week).

I'm so glad I stepped away from Facebook. I like our girl group and my blend group, but otherwise I could do without. I missed twitter — having real conversations with people that I like (either IRL friends or online friends), and I love the blogs that I read daily and having real discussions with those people (I cut my subscriptions from 450+ to 225 and I'm still trying to cut — the number is still pretty large b/c i have a ton of design blogs that I literally just scroll through and pin inspiration for later and don't actually read).

Speaking of which, I love Pinterest, but I unfollowed just about everybody on there and I keep unfollowing more people. I don't like seeing skinny ass models with "do one pushup and look like this" messages along with a bunch of shitty, bad-for-you junk food. Not what I want. I want pretty photos, pretty things, and smart ideas. I mainly use Pinterest as a bookmarking app (since I used to print out / file away tutorials / recipes before the advent of pinterest — just made my life less cluttered).

Anyway ... yes. I'd like to see more of the REAL Kelly this year. I will agree with you and the BF — the social butterfly Kelly-on-steriods you've been the last several years is NOT you, and it's been so hard on you to keep up (and it's been really hard on your IRL friends to keep up with you).

Kelly L said...

Here's the thing lady: the woman who comes through in these blog posts is amazing and I love her. And I think it's really easy to get in a big blogger group, like at BiSC, and want to be your rock star self, but if there's anything I'm sure of, no matter who you are, that group of people will accept you and love you. You're one of my favorite people, just in case you didn't know.

Kelly L said...

Oh Kelly, i miss you. Both of you. :) Because i think i know both sides of you and frankly i like them both. The whole "be yourself" mantra has never made any sense to me. Who else could i ever be...?

I think it's so interesting that you, Calee and i all feel sick to death of social media for both similar and different reasons. Constantly comparing your life to that of others is soul-crushing. And, strangely enough, i have the opposite problem with it that you do—i think facebook and twitter make me TOO authentic. My manners go out the window, i stop trying to be pleasant and i speak my mind to a fault. I'm working on changing who i am instead of being who i am, because the person i really am is not to my satisfaction just yet. She's angry and mouthy and prone to wounding people she cares about with unkind words.

This is a really hairy subject that i'm not good at thinking coherently about. But anyway, i'm here for you, whether that means hanging out more or letting you hole up and write stories. :)

Kelly L said...

You have no idea how bizarre it is to hear that *I* was intimidating to anyone... I don't think I've ever in my life heard that from anyone. Usually I'm the, uh, intimidatee? Is that a word? Spellcheck tells me it's not, but screw spellcheck.

I know it took me forever and a half to respond to this, but even now I'm not even sure I know HOW. It really means a lot that you swung by to read/comment. I've actually been inching in the direction back toward "me" and, frankly, I've been feeling better than I have in ages. It's so hard not to want to be "it" and just do my own thing, but I've found that I am much more content when I'm just going along minding my own business.

I can't wait to see you again! You're getting a big-ass tackle hug, so brace yourself.

Kelly L said...

Ok even now this comment makes me want to cry and it's been two months since you posted it. I feel like you and I are kindred souls, I've been seeing a lot of myself in your posts lately. I'm so glad you're coming back to Vegas this year!

Kelly L said...

SOLIDARITY. I love the Internet for many, many things, but it's easy to get caught in the trap of "I am not enough" and the comparison game, OMG THE COMPARISON GAME. Worst game ever.

Except maybe the Hunger Games. Those would probably suck worse. Thanks, sidebar ad, for the reminder.

Kelly L said...

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. "Balance" seems like such a hard concept to master, especially with the rise of blogs and social media. I mean, I'm really glad I've gotten involved with them, I've met some great people (such as yourself) but... ugh. It's done a toll on my insecurity.

Kelly L said...

YAY! I'm glad I helped. I love being helpful. Like, seriously, it's one of my favorites. You are also delightful and I'm glad we got the chance to hang out (and will get the chance to hang out some more!)

But... yeah. Brand management is exhausting. It's exhausting enough to do it for work, for a company, or something akin to that, but then to come home and have to manage your own image? WHY MUST WE DO THIS? It's frustrating. I mean, I get it. I do. I'm trained in it, I am a brand management MACHINE, but it's kind of rough when you're applying it to yourself. Like all the other parts of you that you're not showing aren't good enough. And you still have to deal with those parts and so you feel bad because they aren't shiny and polished like the rest. And then you feel like a fake person, and that's no good either.

Kelly L said...

Somehow, you managed to pull things out of my head that I hadn't even been aware I was thinking, because I was reading (and re-reading and re-reading) this going, YES, THAT. I don't even know how to respond to it, because you basically said everything there was to say.

It's so funny, in a way, that the majority of BiSCuits identify as being introverted, and so many of the bios are "I'm really quiet until you get to know me" - which is how I would probably be inclined to label myself, even - and yet, you're right - so many dynamic people and you just want to soak it all in and be best friends with everyone (which is unrealistic) and make sure that they're best friends with you (which is also unrealistic). I don't know what compels me to want to stand out, be noticed, when I'm actually kind of uncomfortable in the limelight sometimes. It's bizarre. I'm sure a therapist would tell me it has something to do with my being excluded from things as a youngin - being the weird kid who read books instead of "marrying" boys under the slide at recess. I was definitely an oddity growing up and had to force myself to fit in... that's probably when it all started unraveling for me. So glad it took ten years to get things back into alignment. Yeesh.

But I digress.

I'll miss you in Vegas this year but I'm so glad we got to hang out the last two years. I need to try to swing a trip out east sometime so I can visit you lovely people!

Kelly L said...

"the social butterfly Kelly-on-steriods" - love it.

And that last goal was written with you in mind. ;)

In all honesty though... yeah. I'm trying to cut back on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest (that last one is proving challenging, though I don't spend nearly as much time on it as I used to) and any other outlets where things trend toward the superficial and petty and are inherently devoid of any real value to add to my life. So, we'll see how that goes, I guess.


Kelly L said...

This, also, makes me all teary-eyed. Ironically, you're one of my favoritest people but you're also one of everyone's favoritest people, so I want to be all cool and awesome so you'll, like, be my BFF. Which is awkward and creepy but whatever. ha.

Your mission is to slap me upside the head if I start being weird and disingenuine at BiSC. And apparently "disingenuine" is NOT a word by Actual Dictionary Definitions but eff, whatever, you know what I mean and I'm using it anyway.


Kelly L said...

I think it would do us good to hang out and test drive this whole "IRL" business. I'm actually hoping that this social media heyday will wind down soon and be over, or at least diminished, because I'm kind of over it, but you know how I hate to be left out of things, so I'll keep tagging along to make sure I'm not missing anything.

Kelly L said...

I'm trying to quit reading blogs and looking at stuff that triggers my competitive mode. Still reading people who I really like IRL, but not doing much else. Instagram is kind of a trigger for me sometimes too. I've been spending more time on twitter actually having discussions with people and less time on Facebook engaging in that negativity (you know where that could take me). Pinterest doesn't really count for me because I don't use it socially. I mainly use it to bookmark stuff and reference later.

Kelly L said...

I guess I really don't, either. I just make pretty boards and leave it at that. It's visual bookmarking, really. (Or visual hoarding, technically.)

I kind of had my fun with facebook debates last fall but I'm pretty much over it, now. I'm going to post about stuff like cats. If someone has a problem with cats, then they're not really my friend. ;)