Monday, July 4, 2016

Not everyone gets fireworks.

Obviously, it's the Fourth of July. My family has never been big on celebrating any holiday, but our July 4's are especially lame because no one likes fireworks. Personally, I would like to see them, but my distinct memory from the last time I went out to watch them was that it was uncomfortably loud and bright. I guess I sometimes wish my family was more exciting and intentional about doing things, but they are who they are.

Watching the television broadcasts of sequined pop stars belting inane hits and the sparks ignite in the sky above the trees in my backyard, it's easy to get swept up into dreaming about the future. But at the same time I am plagued with insecurity about the present and reminded of disappointments in my past.

I found out tonight that another acquaintance from my old school got engaged. This one hit closer to home because I totally didn't expect it. The woman is not your typical sweet, skinny, blonde cherubic Christian girl who has been dating some equally bland man since freshman year; she's mouthy, cynical, not conventionally attractive, and has only been dating this guy for a year or so (as far as I'm aware). It just makes it all the more clear that I am among the Undesirables who will now be left to rot in Single, Semi-Attractive Smart Christian Female Who Has Never Been Kissed Purgatory until it's socially acceptable for me to join an online dating site in my mid-thirties. Now, I don't subscribe to this sort of thinking as much as I used to since I, 1) don't feel very connected to the "Evangelical" Christian church any more, and 2) would rather stay single for life than settle down with whomever will take me.

I don't want to be one of those people who gripes about being single and obsesses about finding someone. I'm thankful that I don't really care about all of that the way I used to. But I guess since my self-esteem has been pretty low lately, it's hard to see other people be Chosen, especially people who are more on my level of quirkiness of personality and level of attractiveness, while I have no prospects. It makes me feel once again like I'm deficient in some way: not attractive enough, not outgoing enough, not experienced enough in the game of romance. In the past week or so, I keep hearing these lies as I worry that friends don't like me, men don't find me attractive, my work doesn't matter to people, etc.

To make things worse, I made the mistake of looking at this woman's fiancee's Facebook page to try and figure out if he was someone I knew from school too. (Don't judge me...You know you've done the same thing.) I came across this ad for a concert one of the fraternities put on with some musical groups consisting of recent alumni from our school. The whole thing was ridiculously pretentious and I guess I'm pretty picky when it comes to music so I've never been particularly impressed with these people's music even though people at my old school were gaga over them. Now, I've been writing songs since I was a sophomore there and I performed at many coffeehouses and music events and post songs online and stuff, but I never got much attention.

People would compliment me after shows but I don't have the popularity or marketing abilities to get people to follow me on the Internet or get people to flock en masse to my performances. It would usually just be a few friends (if I was lucky) and some random people who happened to be there. I'm grateful for every performance I got to do and for every person who came and who said something kind, but I was always a bit frustrated that people didn't pay the attention they did to these other campus performers and alumni whose lyrics and music were less honest, less rehearsed, and, at the risk of sounding snotty, not as good as mine, in my not-so-humble-opinion.  I mean, some people didn't even have their songs memorized for performances when I would rehearse for days or even weeks beforehand.

I definitely noticed that musical popularity was linked to, well, normal popularity, and being a semi-attractive male - hell, just a living, breathing male - was a significant aid to anyone's campus music career. In my junior year, I auditioned for a coffeehouse and the all-female crew didn't even say hello to me when I came in, looked unimpressed throughout my performance, and whisked me away as soon as possible once I finished. They then chose a line-up of all men, including freshman boys who had singing voices like sawdust but were tall and single (one of their hit singles was a song about Korean barbecue, to give some perspective), and one committee member's boyfriend's band. It was my second year trying out and being rejected. I bet they all have shirts that say "#feminist" too.

Well, that was a bit of a tangent. Sorry, folks. But that story always give me a chuckle. A chuckle where your eye sort of twitches and your hand unintentionally claws at the sofa armrest. The point is, seeing these guys with all of their fancy graphics designed by fellows hipster graduates and their official Facebook pages with 600+ likes when I still have only 10 and remembering how those coffeehouse committee girls made me feel like worthless scum dirtying the soles of their Toms made me feel even more lame, unpopular, and, well, useless.

I guess even though I'm not depressed the way I used to be, thanks to the medication, I still grapple sometimes with questions like,

  • "What am I doing here?" 
  • "Do people care that I exist?" 
  • "Does my life matter?" 
  • "Have people stopped talking to me because they're busy or because I'm lame?" 
  • "What should I do with my life? How can I make it matter?"
  • "Why hasn't anyone been interested in me romantically? Is there something wrong with me? Will anyone ever like me that way?"
  • "Why does some people's work gain lots of attention while mine is largely ignored? I pour so much into it, try to be honest, and sincerely want to help others with my story. How can I make a difference when no one pays attention to the things I try to do to help?"
And I could go on. Part of me just feels so discouraged, defeated, pessimistic, inferior, unpopular, uncool, unattractive and unaccomplished, and things just keep coming along to add to the hurt. It's easy to begin to resent people you admire who have become successful and question your own talent or worth because you are not. Obviously, neither is healthy. But I sometimes realize that even if I did become popular and successful, I would probably still have these self-doubts as I faced criticism on a wider scale. Popularity even seems to fuel insecurity. People can win every award and still feel like they have to do more, more, more. 

Truly the best thing I can do for myself in life is establish a strong self-concept and a grounded respect for who I am as a person. Which I guess brings me back to what my counselor has told me all along, which is that I need to congratulate myself for the small accomplishments I make every day - the little shows that weren't well-attended but were examples of overcoming anxiety, the auditions, the conversations with new people, the events attended alone, the decisions to be honest and share the scary truths people didn't necessarily want to hear about my life, the choice to seek help and persevere through the many dark parts of my journey to recovery. The commitment to keep writing and fighting even when no one was reading my work or paying much mind to my life. 

Every day has been full of choices to keep pushing myself to overcome social anxiety, to stay alive in spite of my loneliness and depression, to rebuild my life after I lost almost everything. We focus so much on the grand displays - the award shows, the fireworks, the live broadcast concerts - that we equate success with monumental popularity, oodles of records broken, millions of views, etc. and forget to appreciate the quiet struggles, the people worthy of applause that walk through our lives each day, the songs we ought to listen to playing in the next dorm room rather than in the radio, the constant love of a spouse of thirty years rather than the celeb couple on US Weekly, the simple beauty of the guy or girl who sits next to you in class rather than the Pinterest board of swoon-worthy musicians with manufactured images. I guess I'm sounding old and crotchety now, but it does make me sad to see how fixated we are with famous, popular things rather than the lonely people an arm's length away. We Snapchat with people in other rooms when the person right across from us at lunch is longing just to know someone cares enough to listen. 

Okay, so that just spiraled into a whole other post and topic, but it was good to process through this self-doubt and I hope that if you struggle with similar feelings, you know that you're not alone and we can both start to see the things we've accomplished, no matter how small, rather than the fireworks that aren't for us. 

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