I’m Good Enough…I’m Smart Enough…

One thing I’m realizing now that I have a daughter in high school is how reflective it can be. Watching your child navigate the same waters you did however many years ago can really cause you – consciously or subconsciously – to think back to your time. To revisit the stuff that was important to you, the stuff that moved you, the stuff that fractured you, the stuff that molded you. The mistakes you made, the successes you had, the way you handled (or didn’t handle) issues.

Why, yes, this will be another post where Christy thinks back to who she was in high school and judges it. Thank you very much.

I’m learning, as I accompany Maggie on her journey in high school, how very, very different she is. As I share and talk about her on social media, I also learn how very, very differently I was viewed compared to how I saw myself.

For me, my identity and self-worth has always been based on what I can do. I was never one of the pretty girls, one of the hot girls, one of the popular girls, one of the smart girls, one of the fashionable girls. In my eye, I had one thing and one thing only. I could sing. I was not horrifying to look at, I got acceptable grades, I had a few stylish articles of clothing (which never seemed to look right on my physique), I had a boyfriend (though let’s not get into THAT). I was pretty much right down the middle of the road on everything. Except for the fact that I could SING. And when I came to realize that fact, I hung every bit of my self-esteem on it.

See, when I would sing, people sat up and noticed me. People recognized me. People sought me out to tell me I had talent. Nothing like that had happened before in my life. In fact, most of the time it seemed that people fell over themselves to NOT notice me. I mean, for 2 years (off and on) I had the same boyfriend. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why my presence day to day wasn’t as important to him as the presence of every other girl he knew. We had one class together. When I came in, I’d get a greeting. When the other girls came in, they’d get run up to, picked up, spun around, danced with, sung to. Even my boyfriend couldn’t be bothered to notice me much of the time. Of course that didn’t stop me from trying to be noticed – figuring it had to be something wrong with me. Many girls (at least those with healthy self-image) would have made him talk to the hand and found somebody who thought they were awesome. I just tried harder.

Anyway – I digress. Just an example to show how invisible and unnecessary I often felt.

I knew I could sing. Therefore, I would get all my feeding from being the best singer. And I had to be. It was not good enough just to sing and be good at it. I had to prove that I was the best. What many people would have taken for confidence or even cockiness was actually desperate insecurity. I had to be #1 and if I wasn’t chosen for the solo or picked for the group, it felt like someone had put on a chain mail glove and punched me as hard as they could in the solar plexus. I couldn’t breathe. In my sick mind, this meant I now had no worth. I would sometimes hide this behind cattiness or an “attitude”, but it was actually armor I put on so no one could see how hurt I was.

Because of this, it was imperative that those in charge of making these choices liked me. Since I didn’t really know how to make people like me, I just tried to be the absolute best. Sometimes I got lucky and people just accepted that. Sometimes I didn’t. You know, they say that nobody is loved by everyone. Sometimes your mental illness totally clashes with someone else’s. Sometimes there’s just something about you that rubs another the wrong way. Occasionally, that other sees weakness and uses it against you. Other times, people simply see the “armor” you’ve put on and take it at face value. I had plenty of people who thought I had an attitude problem because I hid my disintegrating self-image behind self-deprecating humor or belittling someone or something. I really just wanted those people to see my talent and tell me I was worthwhile because of it. If I wasn’t in front or the “best”, I felt like I might as well not be there because I was just one of many. Back then, I couldn’t see that “one of many” can be just as important as the person in the spotlight.

In my senior year, I had some struggles with a person who was in charge of these choices. To my eye, this person had favorites and I wasn’t one of them. I felt that this person didn’t like me and had no respect for my talent. It destroyed me. I had been waiting forever for this year – where I could finally make my mark, occasionally be the star and get what I felt was my “due” (right or wrong). This person and I butt heads a few too many times and it actually culminated in a meeting with the principal over whether or not I should be removed from one of the two activities I did. Thankfully, it turned out in my favor, but during this time I literally wanted to die. In my mind, this was all I had. It defined me. Without it, I was pointless. I might as well die. Truthfully, I think if it had turned out differently, I might have tried to kill myself – that’s how warped it all was for me.

So when people tell me that I have always been so confident or self-assured, I cannot believe they thought that. But of course they did. I did a damn good job of making sure nobody knew how much hinged on it all for me. How deeply and viciously I hurt. I’m sure there are people who knew me then who thought I was an egotistical PITA, and for that, I’m sorry. I really wasn’t. I honestly didn’t think I was better than anyone. I was terrified I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought. And outside of it, I felt completely worthless. So if I ever said or did anything that made you feel small or made you think I thought I was 27 notches above you, please forgive me. I’m so sorry. It couldn’t be more the opposite if it was written backwards.

Now that I’ve explained all that, let me show you my daughter. Who can audition for singing groups, not make it, and say, “It’s okay, Mom. No big deal. I’ll try again next year.” No tears, no wailing, no raging at those in charge. Just a “it’s not that important, Mom. My life won’t be affected if I’m not in a high school singing group.”

What. The. Hell. I don’t know who this kid is or where she came from. I don’t know where this self-confidence came from. I’m so incredibly proud of her and pleased for her. Her life will be so much easier if she’s not constantly fighting the crap I did. And if she doesn’t place her entire worth on something as nebulous as singing. Criminy. I love her.