Your Problem With Me Is Not *My* Problem

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“I honestly don’t know how you read Internet comments and not want to f*cking kill yourself!” My friend semi-jokes, eyes wide as she scrolls through my online portfolio with pages and pages of anonymous hate (and love).

I consider how to approach the question. Frankly, I don’t have a great answer.

I think of explaining how long I’ve been posting “content” online and the bizarre numbness that comes with reading the truly heinous stuff. I could even let it get dark and uncomfortable for a second. Oh, I’ve definitely wanted to kill myself, but not because of randos telling me I should!

Instead, I just shrug.

“It’s not my problem.”

* * *

I was thirteen the first time I realized my desire for others to like me wasn’t just a side-effect of entering my teen years, but something that was directly tied into how I viewed and valued myself. I didn’t just want to be liked, I needed to be liked. My self-esteem depended on it.

I remember sitting on the tiled floor of my middle school with a group of adolescent girls, only really knowing two of them. We began discussing our individuals flaws, something that has been (sadly) uniting women for generations.

A waif-like blonde started by saying how much she hated the way her skin created neat folds whenever she bent over. She called it fatness. But I couldn’t see that. How true it is, that others often don’t see the massive imperfections we convince ourselves we have. A petite brunette fretted over the thick hair adorning her upper lip. A girl of color in a fairly white-washed suburb, she said she fought a battle daily with figuring out how to love her body hair. How badly she wanted to wax everything off so she could be “pretty like other girls in school.” I only ever thought how beautifully shaped her smile was and that her eyes exuded kindness.

It was then my turn. And I hated so much, it felt like getting ready to write an essay with so many places one could start.

My teeth. My breasts. My nervous stomach. My worried mind. My inability to let go and be wild. My obsessions.

“My knees. They look like fat old men.”

Everybody laughed. I laughed too. I needed them to laugh too.

* * *

I was a fairly shy child, especially in social situations. An introvert to the core, I was easily exhausted by large crowds and being around people I didn’t know very well. There was nothing exciting about meeting strangers. To me, it was just a special kind of Hell I had to navigate. A birthday party where I wasn’t sure I knew all the party goers was the kind of anxiety-inducing event that had my little body nauseated with acid reflux. So, as you can guess, I wasn’t Miss Social Butterfly floating in and out of gatherings with ease and confidence.

But I had so much I wanted to say. I had so much I wanted to do, but the fear of not being accepted for my inner goofiness kept me stagnant. I fit myself in boxes, smaller. Smaller. Whatever I could do to make sure I wasn’t exposing who I really was. I didn’t want to give people the opportunity to point out how weird I was. That my mind was potentially wired differently from my peers, and to an insecure girl, that’s a terrifying thought.

I thought, if people didn’t like me, why should I like me?

If others couldn’t see my worth, I must not have any.

So I dedicated the next few years of my life to simply be likable. I was the nice girl. I was the girl who would pick you up from the airport. I wouldn’t fight with you or argue. I’d appease all situations, bend backwards trying to make sure everyone around me was happy and taken care of. I did a myriad of things I didn’t want to do — both in platonic and romantic relationships.

I had to be liked. I had to be someone worth liking.

But turns out, living like that doesn’t lead to much satisfaction. You don’t suddenly turn into some Beyoncรฉ-like angel when a certain number of people adore you. Your self-esteem doesn’t magically bloom because someone says you’re fun to be with.

People liking you doesn’t make you like you.

* * *

My friend asks another question.

“Does it ever hurt your feelings? When you see people saying mean things?”

Yes.

But I can’t start apologizing for who I am now. I spent far too long doing it. I created an entire life inside a cage and decided it was better that way.

It isn’t.

The day I finally started being my authentic self and not caring if that made me something less palatable was the day life started opening up possibility. It’s a lie to say you won’t care what people think, but living as a version you think will be accepted is a far worse lie. That’s a lie you tell yourself. TC mark

Ari Eastman

โœจ real(ly not) chill. poet. writer. mental health activist. mama shark. โœจ

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