I attended a webinar last week by one of my favorite mentors, Gabby Bernstein. The topic of this live webinar was “how to start doing what you dream of” and during the course of the evening, she asked a very simplistic question – “What is your story?”
I would imagine that half of the people on the call could have answered that question in a heartbeat; they’ve given it some long thought over time. Others, like me, needed to marinate on this question and really dig deep. At the end of the webinar, Gabby circled back to this question and posed us with a dare – to share our story with the world. This week.
So here I am, eight days later, still deliberating on what is my story. I’ve already decided that this will probably take more than one blog post to share my story because, well, I’m very long-winded. And when it comes to something as deep and personal as my story, I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.
Why am I sharing my story? Well other than Gabby Bernstein assigning this personal project to me, I feel that it’s important to share one’s story for the betterment of others. Out of the millions upon billions of humans on this planet who are all so utterly unique, we all share common traits and issues. We experience similar situations, like puberty, heartache, and rejection. I remember having someone comment on my Instagram feed a few months back that I was “too all over the place” and they didn’t want to stick around to “see how my story ended up”. To them and others who are so critical, I simply wish them “goodbye & good luck”.
My story isn’t for everyone. My story is first and foremost for myself, but also for those who are journeying along a ver similar path. All I want them to know is you’re not alone. I felt so alone when I set out on my own, and it wasn’t until 4 months in that I had some older friends reach out to me with “it’s ok; I know what you’re going through”. I really wish I had found this comfort earlier, which is why I’ve shared my journey every step of the way. Up and down; happy or sad. Because nothing on journeys of the heart ever make that much sense and they rarely ever go according to plan. You simply have to release and let it happen.
and so… here we go…
I would have to say my story probably begins all the way way back in grade school. I was a gangly kid who never quite fit in. I didn’t have long, straight hair (I was convinced I needed this to be considered “pretty”), I wasn’t the same “size” as any other girl my age (my dad was 6′; you do the math), and I wasn’t infatuated with boy bands (NKOTB who?). Can you tell I grew up in the 90’s?
I was floating right along in my own little bubbly world up until about 3rd grade, when my mom began home-schooling us and we started attending church again. It didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t fit in with the other girls. Not only was I new to the town, I also was hard to miss. I stood at least 6″ inches over most girls my age, putting me near the height of the boys and the older women in our church congregation. This height difference seemed to somehow knock me out of the girl’s one club and since I had no desire to run around getting dirty with the boys, I opted to make friends with the elderly women. At some point during my four years there, I graduated to the adult choir and tried my hand at teaching Sunday school.
I was 8 when we moved back to this town; 12 when we moved away. Not fitting in at church was a bit discouraging, but we thankfully had our other social groups and activities like 4H club and the fitness group we attended weekly. At some point during these formative years, I picked up a really good, yet terrible, habit – perfectionism. My brother, who was two years behind mind, drove my competitive nature even further when he began taking on subjects that I was struggling with – math in particular. I have never been strong in math and neither was my dad, but he insisted that we still had to get good grades. The abstract nature of math always puzzled me, but I refused to get less than an A and certainly couldn’t allow my younger brother to one up me.
While a little perfectionism is natural and even healthy, my level of perfectionism grew as I matured. I seemed all out-of-whack when it came to what I considered “normal” (aka perfect). By the time I was in middle school, I already had glasses and braces. My hair chose this unseeingly time to wig out (literally) and my longer locks turned into this massive frizz ball reminiscent of Farrah Fawcett. While that was highly desired in the 80’s, it wasn’t what the boys were looking for in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Nope – all the “pretty” girls had long, blond hair or voluptuous, curly hair. My bleach blonde hair didn’t stick around long into elementary school, choosing to fade to what I used to refer to as “mousey blonde”. Even “dirty blonde” sounded too pretty for what I considered was on my head.
Oh and then there was the size of me. The images on television and on magazine covers (you know, the things you look at as you wait in the checkout line?) were all of skinny women with either proportional or very unproportional chests. Very few of them had curves below the waist, which discouraged me because I was definitely the opposite. To be quite honest, I had been stick skinny up until puberty struck much earlier than expected. Then all of a sudden, the straightness was gone, curves were popping out every which way, and I could no longer just eat whatever I wanted. Childhood had vanished; womanhood began. And nowhere on all of the magazine covers could I find a woman that looked like me. I would struggle with this for years.
By middle school, we had moved and I was apart of a youth group. I had a few friends from there that lived nearby, but I still felt like I never really fit in. All the girls were obsessed with boys and kissing; I couldn’t figure out how to keep the hair on my legs to stop growing so quickly. I was super envious of the girls with their shiny braces and cute outfits that were totally short, but they were short so they got away with it. I couldn’t get away with anything because 3/4 of my body were my legs. I think my dad at some point jokingly called me “legs Magee”, but it was true! Any pants we tried to find were high waters on me and prom dress shopping was dreadful as everything was too short or wouldn’t drop past my ankles.
Since I obviously couldn’t control how my body was turning out (terribly, had you asked me), I decided I was going to be one of those girls who got by on her brains. I threw myself even more so into schoolwork, pushing myself to excel in every subject. When it came time to decide on high school, I begged to be allowed to attend the new one opening up down the street. Oh, how I wanted to get up and ride the school bus and deal with lockers and backpacks and crowded hallways. I hadn’t ever dealt with that and for some reason, I’d built it up into this glamorous adventure in my mind. I wanted to try new things; see new classes; play a sport; maybe go on a date. High school was my answer to all of these, and so in the fall of 2000, I entered public high school.
I remember that first day like it was yesterday. I had spent hours picking out the perfect outfit from my back-to-school shopping. I finally settled on a scoop-neck hunter green top with stripes across the middle and khaki pants. I had all of my books and supplies in my backpack and I was really for this new adventure. As I moved from class to class, though, the sparkliness of school began to fade. While everyone was busy catching up over the summer, I sat awkwardly waiting for the teacher to just commence teaching. I silently begged them to start the class right as the bell rung because I didn’t want to be the only one not talking. The final period of the day was the worst, though. I had prayed that I was going to escape without some humiliation attributed to freshmen, but nope – I couldn’t miss it. I remember entering 6th period (science) and having one of the boys ask if I was the teacher. When I responded that I wasn’t, they scoffed over it a bit and mumbled something about my outfit making my look like a teacher.
And there it was – I didn’t look like anyone else my age. I wasn’t even dressed that odd; but my oddities and awkwardness apparently shown right through the now silly-looking clothes I had some lovingly chosen. I honestly don’t think I ever wore that outfit combination again, for fear that they’d say something again. Instead, I anxiously watched what the other girls were wearing and tried to blend in. I didn’t do anything neat with my hair unless I saw someone else do it first. I barely spoke up in class because I didn’t want to seem like a know-it-all or an idiot (because in math and science, I wasn’t the sharpest). I muddled my way through that first year of high school required courses and began to plot for my next big break – college. If I could be the brainy girl who got amazing grades, I wouldn’t need a cute boyfriend or stunning prom dress to get me into a good school.
Sophomore year was when we learned that my dad was going to be retiring. This meant that I wouldn’t be finishing high school where I was. At first, I was pretty excited about the idea. But sophomore year is also when I met my first “real” boyfriend and I quickly became attached to the idea of us staying together (and getting married, and having kids – the whole sha-bang). As time wore on and we realized that we wouldn’t be staying in Florida, it became apparent that I might not being finishing high school somewhere else after all. My parents were looking at North Carolina and they required less credits than Florida. For me to transfer up my senior year, I would only have one year-long course to take. I begged and pleaded to graduate early – it only made sense. Then when we moved, I could go straight to college and save myself a year.
It was also during sophomore year that I hit a depression state. I remember learning about poetry and writing sad poems about how lonely I was. Looking back, I don’t know why I was so sad – I was in school with friends; I was playing sports; I had the interest of a few boys; no one was picking on the way I looked. Honestly, if I remember correctly, I had given up m search for being pretty and settled on a more grunge look. It was much more relaxing and comfortable on all levels. But for some reason, I still was sad and so I wrote these depressing poems. I remember being in science class one day when they called me up to the office. I don’t recall exactly what was the reason, but I remember it being something about depression and possible suicidal thoughts. But it was some sort of mix-up and had nothing to do with me, so I was sent back to class. In those moments sitting up in the front office, I was terrified that my mom thought I was suicidal and had sent me to the counselor to be confronted. I don’t think I ever wrote a depressing poem after that day.
When we finally had the permission of the whole school (not really, but it seemed like it), I was able to begin night classes and virtual school. The goal was for me to graduate a year early, completely losing my junior year. The second half of my sophomore year, I opted out of basketball in order to take night classes. I was in classes with all of these kids who were failing and didn’t give a shit; meanwhile I had my nose buried in books, trying to get everything done. I was taking online courses as well, so I wouldn’t have to take as many summer classes. That summer was spent mostly studying, spending time with my boyfriend (who I still believed wouldn’t dump me), and researching colleges in western Carolina.
I was honestly quite content and excited that I was finally doing something different than everyone else. No one really questioned why I was doing it; by junior year, I think we were all over high school. The school newspaper interviewed me about my early graduation and what was driving me to skip the social hype like prom and homecoming. I was really honest – I was inspired by my sophomore and junior science teachers (both female) and really wanted to work in the field of physical therapy. I couldn’t wait to get started because that would require at least a bachelor’s and master’s degree, a minimum of 6 years. I didn’t have time to be dawdling around the high school dances.
When I finally graduated, I was ecstatic. Not only was I off to college and getting my second fresh start, but I was going to be living out on my own. I was excited and nervous, all at the same time. Looking back now, I realize that I was just happy to start over. This would become another habit of mine – when something doesn’t work out the way you plan, you tie up loose ends, jump ship, and search out the new path.
to be continued…