What do most people see when they look at me?
I think, from the things I read and hear, they see a woman who has it - mostly - all together. Who lives a charmed life. A woman who has a very, very kickass job, the editor-in-chief of a wildly successful, quickly growing website, a woman who gets to live a hard-working, seemingly glamorous life writing about the movie industry and living in LA. A woman who - probably - needs to spend less money on pizza, and who - definitely - tweets too much. A woman who is tired of the massive debt she has and often worries about money, but is in a lucky enough position to have a career where she can hopefully one day dig herself out of it. A woman in a happy relationship, with amazing, brilliantly talented and quirky friends, and a fiercely loving extended family.
That's what most people see when they look at me.
But what they don't see is where I was even a few months ago. What they don't see is that every day, I push away the secret, nagging fear that I'm not good enough at my job, that I'm not the me I want to be, that I'm not good enough as a girlfriend, that I need to get my shit together, that I'm not good enough as a boss, a mentor, a friend, a sister, a daughter. That I'm not good enough.
Oh, make no mistake. I'm not saying it's crippling or disabling. I'm not even saying that it keeps me from doing what I need to do most days. I'm generally happy and well-adjusted. I'm just saying that it's there.
But the thing is, while I've grown in confidence in some ways, in others, I'm more insecure than ever.
Let me tell you a story...
In 2011, I met a man. I won't refer to him by name, because this story is as much his as mine, perhaps even moreso. My friends and loved ones already know who he is and what we were - or, at least, most of it. And those who don't know who he is don't need to know. All anyone needs to know is that in 2011, I met a man, and a man met me. And we, as the ancient story goes, fell in love.
At the time, I was living in Dallas, and he, in Southern California. Our relationship was a long-distance one, at first, but we were open and honest, and despite our limited time together, started to build something solid. We traveled back and forth often to stay with one another, which was made possible by the fact he'd just been laid off his very lucrative job but was still flush with cash and savings, and that I had very understanding bosses and a flexible job.
When we first started dating, he casually mentioned that he suffered from depressive spells.
I empathized. I had suffered with Seasonal Affective Disorder for years without realizing that's what it was. I told him about my second-to-last semester in college when I, a straight-A student in an honors program on an academic scholarship, failed my classes or got incompletes that turned into failures when I couldn't bring myself to leave my room, let alone leave the house I shared with my sister and two roommates. How I lied to my parents about what had happened and why I had to repeat a few classes, because I thought the problem was that I was just lazy. Because I chalked up the complete apathy and absence of emotion to just me being unmotivated. Because I thought the fact that I just. couldn't. care. about anything regarding myself or focus on anything wasn't a "real" feeling, because I wasn't in constant tears and I wasn't really sad, which was what I thought depression was. I was just numb, but numb didn't equal sadness, so there wasn't really anything wrong with me, I was just lazy.
I told him about how, about a year before we met, I was finally fed up with not living up to my potential, to always feeling like there was so. much. more to me than what I'd shown the world, but it was like it was locked away behind a door in my head and I hadn't yet found the key. So I went to a therapist and spilled it all, the way I could never focus, but had a mind that didn't quit - ever. How I had a brain that could learn things instantly and remember them forever with a steel-trap of a memory, but had a hard time getting it to stay on task. How I got restless and anxious inside because I constantly felt like I should be doing something else, and that whatever I was doing at any time wasn't good enough if it wasn't productive, wasn't the thing I really should have been doing. But how I sometimes, for long stretches at a time, couldn't bring myself to actually do those things at all.
And told him about how I finally figured out that I wasn't a waste, that I had been struggling with a one-two punch of Seasonal Affective Disorder and ADD for years. That both fed into one another in a vicious cycle, and that I'd gone so long without understanding what was happening because my whip-smart brain and steel-trap memory had masked both all throughout high school, college, and even grad school.
I told him all of it.
So when he said, "I get depressed," I thought I understood exactly what he meant.
Which was why, when I'd decided I wanted to leave Dallas and move to LA, and he said, "Maybe you should wait until I get out of this thing, until I'm better," I said, "Don't be silly. We'll get through this together."
And I moved.
See, I'd always been fiercely loyal to those I cared about. Some might even have described it as obstinately, blithely so. I'd always seen the best in others, rather than the worst. And that wasn't a bad thing. I helped those close to me find the good when they couldn't find it in themselves, and I talked them up when they had nothing good to say about themselves.
But it also meant I tended to ignore some very real warning signs about people now and then. It wasn't that I didn't see red flags, it was that I saw them but always chalked them up to a more sympathetic reason, landed on a kinder reading of what I saw. The alarm bells went off, but instead of listening to them, I always thought to myself, "Surely, no one could be that bad. I'm being unkind if I think ill of this person when they've done no harm to me." I was that girl who, when she saw a cringing or growling dog, would patiently hold out her hand, saying, "He won't bite me. I just have to be patient."
My self-preservation instinct had always been, shall we say, somewhat haphazard in its appearances.
When we packed up my things, rented a U-Haul and hitched my car to the back, then drove from Dallas to Southern California with all the worldly possessions I hadn't given away and two cats, it was understandably stressful. But I was happy. I'd always loved long road trips, whether passenger or driver, and I was happy that we were going to be together. I was filled with the sense of possibility, the energy of a new chapter of my life starting.
I understood, however, that most of the stress had been on him. He was the one who was driving the unwieldy U-Haul with a hitch on the back, and his anxiety sapped him. When we finally arrived in California at the home of my friends, with whom I was going to live, and he then disappeared for almost a full week, texting me but once or twice, saying only that he "needed some alone time to recharge," I was hurt. And I was confused. But I didn't want to start our relationship off on the wrong foot, not when it was truly beginning, and I wanted to understand him, so I said nothing. I told myself that it was an aberration, that him simply being unable to cope was a one-time thing, a weird blip that, of course, wouldn't be the norm for him.
We didn't know then that it was the happiest he'd be in the three and a half years we were together.
To be continued...