When I was growing up – by which I mean the ages of 10 until about 30 – my new year’s resolutions every year were variants on the theme of, “Please let this year be the one where I’m less of a sucky person.” By which I meant: less socially awkward, less lonely, less anxious, less sad, less unsure of myself and my life’s path, less selfish, less boring, less…me.
As a child, I held onto a belief that I would magically become this awesome person when I finally just grew up. My childish cocoon would unzip to reveal a staggering metamorphosis, and a confident, interesting, bad-ass, multi-skilled, adventuring warrior poet adult woman would emerge to gasps and glory.
Then I reached voting age and realized that no butterfly was forthcoming. There was still just me, just taller and legally allowed to drink. So I started setting absurd resolutions for myself with each new calendar – that this would be the year that I mastered a new, no—two new languages, learned a martial art, wrote a book, developed a model physique, invented something to save the world. Inevitably, each new year’s eve would bring deep shame for having failed – yet again – to achieve the unreachable resolutions I set for myself, and yet more proof that I was still a sucky person.
Along the way, I was doing things, of course. I graduated university, got my first professional job, travelled to foreign countries by myself, did a slew of volunteering and community service, got accepted into graduate school, and managed to find a wonderful relationship with my now husband. But somehow, the clinical shit (anxiety, depression, panic attacks) and the non-clinical shit (tremendous lack of self-worth, residual childhood stuff) blinded me to a necessary realization:
The cocoon was opening, just more slowly than I anticipated. And what was gradually emerging was indeed awesome and bad-ass and interesting, but it wasn’t some newly invented person. It was simply me, in all my natural glory. My wings were wet and folded, so I couldn’t see their colour and beauty, but they were there, waiting to take flight.
A couple of years after completing graduate school, with more degrees to my name and now with a gorgeous baby at home, I embarked on one more attempt to address my lifelong mental health issues. This time, thanks be to the universe, I found a counsellor who actually helped and a medication that actually worked.
With the clinical shit sort of under control, he and I were able to begin the arduous task of tackling the non-clinical shit that had plagued me forever. After buckets and buckets of tears, we had a breakthrough.
My wings unfolded and they were glorious.
I am still very socially awkward. Interacting with new people makes my palms sweat, and occasionally I meet someone who makes me feel just like I’m 11 again, with nothing redeemable about my personality.
I have to be constantly vigilant to keep my clinical shit under control, lest the anxiety and sadness wash back and drown me.
I still have days when I feel boring and selfish and uninteresting. To be honest, I feel like that more days than not.
And I am unsure of myself all the damn time, questioning if I’m doing my job right, where on earth my career path is leading, if I’m capable of pursuing the other dreams I have for myself, if I’m being the best mum and wife and friend I can be, if I’m really doing all I can to fight injustice near and far, if I’ll look back at my life when I’m old and facing down death and regret the choices I’m making now.
But there’s a profound difference between the questions I asked myself growing up and the questions I ask myself now, because:
I’ve realized that none of these questions have anything to do with my intrinsic worth as a person, which is bound up deep within my soul and untarnishable.
I’ve realized that the process is the reward; the achievement is simply a by-product. Every time I’ve chosen to run towards fear instead of away, every time I’ve sat with my pain instead of giving up, every time I’ve tried something new and not quite succeeded, I’ve proven to myself that I am the woman I used to dream of.
I’ve realized that there is no shame in needing to learn. Being willing to learn is wisdom. Being afraid of what you don’t know is cowardice.
And I’ve realized that if I hold my compass with kindness, exploration, compassion and creation as my true north, the journey will always be worthwhile.
So when I hung up our new calendar last week, I didn’t make any resolutions. I don’t intend to drastically cut away at myself this year. There’s no need.
I’m just going to keep on brushing away at the dirt that covers up my radiance, so that I can smile at my wings glittering in the sun.