Thursday, February 20, 2014

Celebrating 32 and so much more!

Today I turn 32. It’s not really a birthday milestone by any of the normal standards, but for me it is quite a milestone. It’s taken me thirty two years, but I’ve finally learned some important things. Many are as a result of one big thing, I’ve learned to become confident in my own skin and not worry about what other people think.

You might say big deal, but for me this really is a big deal, and let me explain why.

Growing up, I quickly learned that people can hurt you for the things they think they know about you. Whether that be something you said, did, or even something they came to their own conclusion on. So my method of dealing with this was keeping my mouth shut as much as possible. Letting things roll off. Letting people say horrible things about me and just letting it happen. I was a bystander pretending like none of this affected me. Let me tell you, even though I pretended and probably wasn’t very good at it, this all affected me very deeply.

So good, bad, or ugly, I rarely talked about myself, the things I was interested in, what was going on in my life. I hid pretty much anything other than superficial crap, because I was afraid of what people might think of me. Even worse I was afraid of what they might say and/or do to me.

I spent the better part of thirty years walking around afraid to do or say anything. Not knowing what might set people off, what might make people hate me, what might make them say nasty and horrible things to me and about me. And one day I looked up and realized I was completely miserable with my life. And the worst part, no one knew how miserable. They knew I wasn’t happy but not to what extent. No one knew that I had bottled up everything wonderful about myself, buried it in a trunk, locked it up, and threw away the key. I couldn’t be myself because what if people didn’t like me? What if what I said left me with no one? I couldn’t take that kind of rejection.

And you know what? I didn’t get any rejection, because I’d completely taken myself out of the game of life. I was getting worse than rejection from others, I was rejecting myself. And one day I looked up and wondered how I got to where I was and it seemed like an utter mystery.

And yet I had no idea how to fix it, or any idea if I even wanted to. I was perfectly content hiding from the world, and I wasn’t, all at the same time. I was a mess.

And then I started burying myself in books. Finding magical worlds I could hide in. And somewhere in that span of time, I found others who enjoyed those magical worlds too. I talked to those people, and they didn’t think I was crazy. I slowly started to open up. Let little bits of myself sneak out, but never so much that it might come back to haunt me. And never in real life, only online, with the protection of a computer screen and a million miles between me and the people inside that crazy place called the interwebs.

But this was just the beginning of my transformation. As I started to throw little bits of my real self out online, I still was very much closed off to the real world. I wasn’t ready to test it out in public. What if it backfired? I wouldn’t be able to hide what it did to me. My shell was much too thin. It would break far too easily.

With so much bottled inside, I still didn’t have an outlet for my feelings. I was buried in the pages of imaginary worlds, and between the pages of internet forums where I could only leak little pieces of myself.

And then one day I started writing. Not because it was an outlet, but because I was bored. I needed something to do, and writing worlds I could escape to seemed like a good idea. It was just messing around with names and symbolism at first, but it quickly transformed into ideas, lots of them. Crazy ones that would take over my brain and force me to put them on the page. And even though I never intended for writing to be an outlet, somehow it became exactly that. The emotions I couldn’t share with anyone else, came out in these characters that spilled onto the page.

And then something totally insane happened. I decided I needed to share my work, decided I needed to find out if I was wasting my time. See if I was onto something. And for some reason sharing my characters and their stories was a lot easier than sharing my own.

Honestly, I wanted someone to tell me I was awful, that I should give up and not even bother. That I was wasting my time. And at a time in my life when I tried more than anything to sabotage myself, I got the exact opposite. Okay well not the exact opposite, but I found a ton of encouragement. While many people in my life, my family and closest friends, had always been encouraging of what I did, this was the first time I’d gone into the world (or in this case the glorious interwebs) and gotten it from complete strangers. People didn’t jump down my throat and find things to make fun of, they built me up without even knowing it.

So I went back to the drawing board. I started to learn how to write. I took classes, I joined writing groups, and I worked toward finishing the book. I was all in. People saw my mood shifting. They saw how busy I was. They started asking what I was up to. Because I was on this new high, I told them. I’m writing a book. And the weirdest thing happened. People not only thought it was awesome, they supported me, they rooted me on. They took interest in me and started coming to me periodically to ask how things were going.

I slowly started to realize that maybe letting the world know who I really was, wasn’t such a bad thing after all. It wasn’t so bad, because not only were there people out there who cared, there were also people out there just like me. People who also enjoyed the same things I did. People that wore their nerdom proudly, like a badge of honor. And I wanted to be just like those people. So I pinned the nerd badge to my lapel and began to wear it proudly as well. And the more I did, the more people stood with me. The gravitated to my genuine sense of self.

Then this wonderful thing happened. Comic Con came to St. Louis last year. And I realized that there were proud geeks just like me that celebrated that out in public. That it was more than okay for me to do the same. I could not only be myself online, but I could be myself out in the real world. 

And even more amazing, last year at Less than Three, I found a similar experience. People just like me who were often afraid because they'd been beaten down as well. They'd been told they weren't cool and they'd shut themselves down too. And others had found ways to open back up. We all talked about how to stand up to people who beat others down, how to band together, not only to sympathize but to start making a difference. To start the seeds of change.

And in those two events I realized, I’d found my people. Found a world where it was okay to just be me. I’d arrived. And I’d found my confidence. The walls came crumbling down. I was finally me. I didn’t hold anything back. But beyond that, I stopped caring what other people thought because I knew there were people out there like me. There were people that liked me for me. And more importantly, for the first time in my life, I liked me as me.

But I didn’t stop there. Because there came a time when people started to challenge me. It was my childhood all over again. Just because I was an adult didn’t mean I was immune to bullying. It sucked. I was tired of being beat down. I was done keeping my mouth shut. Done letting things just roll off. I decided to let people know that what they were saying hurt, and it wasn’t okay. That the things they were saying did more than just hurt. They were detrimental because they were contributing to the stereotypes in the world. That what they said was preventing the world from changing and moving forward. Preventing the world from accepting others as they were. That there are infinite forms of wonderful in this world, and just because they are all different, doesn't mean one is any better or worse than another. And I wanted to help let the world know that.

Somewhere in learning to speak up for myself and others, the bad conversations began to end and the good, productive ones began. People started looking at what could change instead of who they could beat down. They stopped to think before they spoke. They wondered how the things they say might affect others. And that is a world I’m proud to live in, and a life I’m proud to have.

In all this, I’ve finally learned to be me and be happy with it. And I’m so much richer for it. So this birthday I celebrate all of that, the confidence, the ability to speak up, my nerdery, my writing, my life, and all the wonderful people in it that have been rooting me on along the way. I celebrate the person who finally found herself. Who finally came out of the shell and joined the world. I celebrate the emergence of me!

16 comments:

  1. Happy Birthday! Hope it's a great day w/some yummy cake in there somewhere. =)

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm sure there will be cake!

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  2. What an amazing post--you are truly in touch with your inner feelings and have eloquently expressed them here. Have a wonderful birthday and a great year filled with courage! :)

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  3. Happy birthday! *hugs*

    YAY FOR BEING A GEEK AND BEING PROUD! :)

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    1. YES!!!! YAY FOR PROUD GEEKS! Thanks **HUGS BACK**

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  4. First- HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Jamie!

    And second- I find that BDs are time for reflection, which is another reason to celebrate them.

    Last- glad you're speaking up!

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    1. Thank you! And I agree definitely a good time to reflect! :)

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  5. Happy birthday!
    It's important to like who you are. I'm glad you found that.
    I think you need that "Rocket Surgery" t-shirt from ThinkGeek.

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    1. thanks! oo sounds like the perfect tshirt for me!

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  6. This was wonderful to read. I can only imagine how much more beautifully it played out in life. Best to you!

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    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post. And yes it has made life so much more wonderful. I'm so appreciative of everything and everyone in my life.

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  7. I love the raw honesty in your blog posts. One day you're going to stumble across the right story-vehicle for that part of you and that book is going to sell big (don't forget me when you're famous :D)

    Sorry I missed your b-day :)

    Thanks for being a great friend and beta reader.

    P

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    1. aww thank you so much for your vote of confidence. That means so much to me. And yes there is so much of that inside me bursting to get out. I'm only just now starting to draw connections of where things are coming from. One day it will all click hopefully :)

      no worries on missing my bday, I think you were incommunicado ;)

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  8. Jamie: I also suck and missed your bday. I hope you had a wonderful one. I've struggled with the same thing throughout my life (which is one reason Paula directed me towards your post). I think part of my struggle was while I was being successful in many ways outwardly, I never thought I was all that great; all my accomplishments never seemed to be enough. I know having a Tiger Mom influenced that in some ways, but as an adult, I really needed to step up and be proud of who I was and stand up for what I believed in regardless of how my parents felt. I couldn't make my parents proud of me, but I could make myself proud of me. That was probably the hardest lesson I have ever learned. And I'm still learning it. Because there will always be people to tear you down. And then I'm my worst critic. But looking from the outside, I think, Jamie, that you and I are pretty damn cool. And that's what matters most. But we'll always have moments when we need to remind each other of that. So that said, in the near future, Ms. Awesome Aerospace engineer + author about to make the big bucks, let's do lunch :-)

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    1. I totally sympathize with the outwardly doing well but internally not feeling good enough! I like you am definitely my own worst critic! I think it's hard sometimes to see what we do as truly awesome because we only see what we could have done better.

      And yes lunch or coffee or something, we must do this sometime soon! And no worries on missing my bday! we can celebrate late in person :)

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